Poly, San Luis Obispo -- April 26, 2001
No "Jumping Genes" Research Says
Cal Poly students in an advanced weed science course validated Monsanto's
claim that genes from genetically modified Roundup Readyâ corn
did not "jump" to a biotype of ryegrass from a Chico-area
orchard, as biotechnology critics argued could happen.
Critics claim the primary danger is that herbicide-resistant genes could
jump from genetically modified crops to other wild or domesticated species,
producing "super weeds" that would resist conventional control
methods. Monsanto maintains it would be very difficult, if not impossible,
for a weed to mutate under normal circumstances due to the genetics
Under the direction of Crop Science Professor Scott J. Steinmaus, students
conducted a crops lab experiment of genetically modified cotton, a resistant
and Roundup-Ready-variety of corn, and one resistant and one susceptible
biotype of ryegrass (Chico and San Luis, respectively). Of these test
plants, only the Chico strain of ryegrass, Roundup Ready corn and cotton
survived the pesticide application at the highest legal rate.
Students next set about isolating DNA from both genetically modified
organisms and the nongenetically modified organisms (NGMO). Each student
worked at independent lab stations to separate the DNA from other cellular
According to Steinmaus, "Each student was 'hands-on' in the lab,
they weren't just watching. They all had the opportunity to isolate
the DNA, amplify the specific modified gene through the use of the polymerase
chain reaction (PCR), and inject the PCR products into an electrically
charged gel pad.
When dye was added to the gel pad, the location of the gene could be
seen under ultraviolet light," Steinmaus said. "We found Monsanto's
altered gene in the genetically modified organisms crops. We didn't
find it in any of the other species including the resistant Chico ryegrass.
"Resistant ryegrass from Chico does not have the same altered gene
as the genetically modified organisms in Roundup Ready crops,"
Steinmaus explained. "Therefore, the altered gene could not have
jumped -- or transferred -- from the crop to the weed. The next step
will be to determine why the weed is resistant."
Steinmaus' study and the class project that investigated herbicide resistance
in weeds was funded by an Agriculture Education Foundation grant.