August 16, 2006

Rogue Grass Threatens Ecosystem.... errr... maybe

I love news@nature. But you still have to understand, that although they present science in an easy to digest fashion, they're still news, and a company. Thus, they are prone to pseudo-tabloidism at times. Journalists will produce hype, support certain sponsors, and just make the occasional boo boo.

This interesting story on the escape of a rogue strain of transgenic golf course grass from a non USDA approved site, has a title that harkens of the usual doom and gloom associated with escaped GMOs.

Escaped GM grass could spread bad news

Rogue golf course strain may harm wild habitats, ecologists warn.

Now, yes they use the word "could" and "may", but its not enough, because people tend not to focus much on these words when simply scanning news.

What does the article actually say about this bio-modified menace...

"It could persist in the wild, but we wouldn't necessarily expect it to have an advantage" - EPA Official
"
bentgrass would be unlikely to encounter herbicide in the wild, so its transgenic status wouldn't necessarily be an issue"

The transgene had one bad outcome:
"The rampant spreading ability of bentgrass could also pass on the transgene for Roundup resistance to other grass species through hybridization", however i don't quite get this analogy "It's like Darwin on steroids". I would have thought it was like polyploidy?

The threat the grass mostly poses is by being a grass - which means it can proliferate quickly and widely and out-compete native (possible endangered) grass species, something I suspect might be a common problem caused by golf course grass;
"Sod-forming grasses can tend to outcompete other species"
"More pressing is the effect that the grasses might have on other local grass species, says Tom Stohlgren, an ecologist at the US Geological Survey's National Institute of Invasive Species Science"

It turns out to be just your average accidental introduction of an invasive species by corporate mismanagement, which, lets not underrate is a travesty in its own right. What i would have liked a bit more focus on is why was this unnaproved grass being allowed to be grown at all. And if it was approved for testing (as opposed to use), what measures were supposed to be in place to prevent this rather obvious form of spread; "
seeds and pollen from the test site were dispersed by the wind." - shit, grass have seeds, and the wind can disperse them!? How come the scientists in charge weren't informed of this minor detail....

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