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Potential for longevity of novel genetically modified herbicide-tolerant traits in the Irish landscape

Marcus J. Collier, Ewen Mullins


With the renewed interest in genetically modified crop technology in Ireland, some concern has been raised in relation to the potential impact on biodiversity in the Irish agri-environment. This concern can focus on the potential for a transgenic trait to cross to wild relatives. A novel trait will be judged to have persisted in a wild population via the successful production of seeds, such that these seeds are viable and result in the establishment of a self-sustaining population. In the case of an herbicide-tolerant (HT) trait, feral and volunteer populations can only remain viable if managed with applications of the herbicide that the trait is designed to resist. This surviving population of HT plants would then need to compete successfully with other wild plants in order to prevail in the landscape and persist over time. There are few agricultural crops that can manage this combination, but as oilseed rape plants are often noted along roadsides and hedgerows in Ireland; it is correct to assume that this crop has the ability to be a successful feral survivor. This paper presents the results of a thought experiment, derived exclusively using the academic literature, on the issue of longevity. This is done by taking four hypothetical case scenarios and examining the potential for a combination of events to take place for oilseed rape (Brassica napus); this is selected here because it has a high potential for ‘escaping’ via pollen- and/or seedmediated gene flow. A lack of quantitative data on Irish farmland biodiversity hinders solid conclusions, but when management pressure is eased, biodiversity stress is lessened.

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