Canola escapees die in the wild

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Glyphosate-tolerant canola in the wild

Scientists in Western Australia have published results of a study into the escape of GM glyphosate-tolerant canola seeds into the wild and their potential to persist, as well as the management implications of this.

The study concluded that while glyphosate-tolerant canola can escape into bushland and roadsides, volunteer herbicide-tolerant plants can be managed by alternative weed-control practices, such as cultivation or treatment with an alternative herbicide.

In one area of bushland, the glyphosate-tolerant canola failed to establish beyond the first generation. In another area the seeds did establish but died out after three years.

The report, ‘Transgenic glyphosate-resistant canola (Brassica napus) can persist outside agricultural fields in Australia’, published in the journal Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, was authored by Professor Stephen Powles and Dr Roberto Busi from the Australian Herbicide Resistance Initiative at the University of Western Australia.

GM cotton in Narrabri

Australian cotton growers will be the first in the world to grow the latest generation of insect-resistant GM cotton following the launch in February of Bollgard 3 for the 2016-17 season.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Australia’s first GM crop, an insect-resistant cotton that has been a technological success for Australia’s $2 billion cotton industry. It has led to a 95 per cent reduction in pesticide use and more than $800 million in extra farm income.

Impact of GM crop ban

A Purdue University study looking at the hypothetical scenario of banning GM crops in the US found it would result in higher food prices, a significant boost in greenhouse gas emissions due to land use change and major loss of forest and pasture land.

In particular, the modelling used by the researchers showed maize yield declines of 11.2 per cent on average, soybean yield losses of 5.2 per cent and cotton losses of 18.6 per cent.

To make up for the yield losses, about 102,000 hectares of US forest and pasture would have to be converted to cropland. Replacing forests with crops would further exacerbate the atmosphere chemistry imbalance caused by greenhouse gas emissions.

With lower crop yields, maize prices would increase by as much as 28 per cent and soybeans by as much as 22 per cent, according to the study.

GM rice drought resilience

Researchers at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines are working to develop a new strain of hyper-efficient, drought­-resistant rice known as C4, which could play a vital role in ensuring food security as the climate steadily changes.

As part of the process, researchers are working to identify the genes in C4 plants (such as maize) that are responsible for creating the plants’ cell structure and activating the more efficient photosynthetic process, with the aim of determining how to transfer them into the rice genome.

If these scientists can replicate the C4 process in a rice plant, the result could be a supercharged rice with the ability to resist the effects of climate change.

“It’s like putting a turbocharger in a car,” says Professor W. Paul Quick, a principal scientist at IRRI. “These plants focus carbon dioxide so that instead of having 400 parts per million, you’ve got 1000 or 1500ppm.”

Scientists are hopeful of a breakthrough soon, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology named the C4 project one of the 10 Breakthrough Technologies of 2015.

“Non-science movement”

Portrait of Robert Salk

PHOTO: Brad Collis

The biggest threat to agriculture being able to feed the growing global population is the anti-GM non-science movement, according to Robert Saik, a Canadian agronomist, founder of the Agri-Trend group of companies and promoter of agriculture and biotechnology.

Mr Saik was the keynote speaker at the GRDC’s recent Grains Research Update in Perth.

Mr Saik said it was time the anti-GM non-science movement was held accountable for its views and challenged with evidence-based fact. To this end, Mr Saik and his son are finalising a documentary called Know GMO – The Movie, which they hope to release later this year.

“The documentary is designed to bring information and attention to urbanised school children to counter anti-GMO hysteria and to let them know what’s really going on in agriculture,” he said.

“We are going to need all kinds of agricultural technology, including genetic engineering, if we are going to ensure global food security,” he said.

Marsh vs Baxter appeal

The High Court of Australia has rejected an application for special leave to appeal by organic growers Steve and Sue Marsh against a ruling of the Supreme Court of Western Australia Court of Appeal.

The WA Supreme Court and Court of Appeal had both ruled that the actions of neighbour Michael Baxter in growing a legal crop in a legal manner did not cause the direct economic loss claimed by the Marshes.

More information:

Agricultural Biotechnology Council of Australia

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