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A better understanding of gene flow

23 June 2005

Scientists will today explain to a meeting in London how their research has greatly improved our understanding of the flow of genetic material between organisms in the environment. Outcomes from the Gene Flow in Plants and Microorganisms Initiative, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), will be valuable in informing the future of both conventional and GM crops.

The outcomes of the initiative include the finding that separation distances of around 100m between GM and conventional crops can meet most impurity thresholds and restrict the transfer of genetic material into the environment. Researchers also found that gene transfer from GM organisms to soil bacteria is vanishingly small and highly unlikely.

However, scientists examining the likelihood of gene transfer from conventionally-bred commercial oil seed rape to its waterside wild relative, Bargeman’s Cabbage, Brassica rapa, found that transfer was not rare. In fact, they estimated that around 32,000 oil seed/B. rapa hybrids are produced in the UK every year.

Another project explored how the activity of genes transferred into plants could be made more predictable. The researchers found that introducing traits by GM methods can have less impact on overall gene expression than conventional plant breeding.

The findings are the result of a five-year £4.5M initiative to increase knowledge of what happens when new or ‘foreign’ genes are inserted into an organism’s genome, what mechanisms control the insertion, whether inserted genetic material can transfer between organisms, and if so what the consequences of gene flow would be.

Professor Phil Dale, Chair of the Initiative Steering Group, said, “The findings of the Gene Flow Initiative are not just important in informing policy on GM crops but for conventional farming and plant breeding as well. Before research under this initiative began we had very little idea of how genetic material flowed in the environment but we are now much better placed for the future.”

Scientists involved in the initiative will be explaining the research and its outcomes at a Media Briefing on June 23. To attend please contact the BBSRC Media Office.

ENDS

Notes to editors

The aim of the Gene Flow in Plants and Microorganisms Initiative was to provide a greater understanding of the biological events that control and influence the insertion of new genetic material into the genomes of plants and microorganisms and of the likelihood and consequences of the subsequent transfer of the inserted material to other organisms.

This initiative was intended to complement other research supported by BBSRC, NERC and other funding bodies by supporting research into the underlying mechanisms of basic biological processes.

The initiative followed an online consultation launched by BBSRC and NERC February 2000. The successful projects under the initiative were announced in November 2000.

BBSRC and NERC are two of the UK’s eight Research Councils.

About BBSRC

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £380 million in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors. http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk

About NERC

The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) is one of the UK's eight Research Councils. It uses a budget of about £300 million a year to fund and carry out impartial scientific research in the sciences of the environment. NERC trains the next generation of independent environmental scientists. It specialises in earth system science, addressing some of the key questions facing mankind such as global warming, renewable energy and sustainable economic development.
http://www.nerc.ac.uk

External contact

Owen Gaffney, NERC Press Officer

tel: 01793 442629

Contact

Matt Goode, Head of External Relations

tel: 01793 413299
fax: 01793 413382

Tracey Jewitt, Media Officer

tel: 01793 414694
fax: 01793 413382