Genetically-modified canola has been breeding undetected in the American wilds for at least "several generations," say scientists. The escaped GM canola has already mutated into a never-before-seen strain, and now it may be modifying other plants too.
Canola is a yellow flowering plant that is used to make oil. Researchers working in North Dakota, found strains of transgenic canola growing wild on roadsides far from local farms - meaning the GM plants had spread quite far. They found two strains of transgenic canola. According to Nature:
"The extent of the escape is unprecedented," says Cynthia Sagers, an ecologist at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, who led the research team that found the canola (Brassica napus, also known as rapeseed).
Sagers and her team found two varieties of transgenic canola in the wild - one modified to be resistant to Monsanto's Roundup herbicide (glyphosate), and one resistant to Bayer Crop Science's Liberty herbicide (gluphosinate). They also found some plants that were resistant to both herbicides, showing that the different GM plants had bred to produce a plant with a new trait that did not exist anywhere else.
Sagers says the previous discoveries in other countries of transgenic canola populations growing outside of cultivation were often in or near fields used for commercial transgenic canola production. By contrast, her research team found feral populations of herbicide-resistant canola growing along roads, near petrol stations and grocery stores, often at large distances from areas of agricultural production.
So why does this matter? Because if the transgenic canola starts swapping genetic material with weed populations - something that is not unlikely - it could spread herbicide resistance to weeds. And that would leave farmers with no way to fight plant pests - and potentially massive crop failures as a result.
Photo by Birdy, via Amateur Photography/Nature Images.