Transgene Flow in Cotton Seed Production Fields
Transgenic crops are grown on more than 300 million acres of farmland around the world. In the United States 94.6% of the cotton planted is genetically modified, commonly to resist pests, pesticides or both. Given the dominance of some transgenic crops, concerns have been raised over the power of companies that control GM seeds as well the potential for gene flow between modified and conventional varieties.
Because corporate owners of transgenic seeds hold copyright over their seeds, lawsuits often result when modified plants are found in conventional fields. Concerns have been raised that traditional farmers and their crops are at a disadvantage as transgene flows further complicate the legal landscape.
To better understand the causes of unintended gene flow between insect-resistant Bt cotton and neighboring conventional crops, in 2010 entomologists at the University of Arizona conducted a study, “Pollen- and Seed-Mediated Transgene Flow in Commercial Cotton Seed Production Fields.” The study was published in PLoS ONE, a peer-reviewed, open-access online publication.
The study’s results include:
- More than 15% of all observed transgene flow was the direct result of planting error or mislabeled seed bags.
- Only 1% of adventitious Bt cotton presence could be attributed to pollen-mediated gene flow.
“Given the low rates of pollen-mediated gene flow observed in this study,” the researchers write, “careful planting and screening of seeds could be more important than field spacing for limiting gene flow.”
Tags: safety, technology
Note to instructor: The suggested assignments are designed for flexibility. They can be used in whole or part and can be adapted to a particular task -- for example, the newswriting assignments could be applied to the writing of the headline, the lead, the nut graph or the full story. Material from the assignments could also be combined with other material, for example, in the writing of a background, feature or local-angle story.
Read the University of Arizona study "Pollen- and Seed-Mediated Transgene Flow in Commercial Cotton Seed Production Fields."
- Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
- Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
Read the issue-related New York Times article "Justices Back Monsanto on Biotech Seed Planting."
- If you were to rewrite the article based on knowledge of the study, what key changes would you make?
- Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
- Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.