The true meaning of ‘exotic species’ as a model for genetically engineered organisms
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- Regal, P.J. Experientia (1993) 49: 225. doi:10.1007/BF01923530
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The exotic or non-indigenous species model for deliberately introduced genetically engineered organisms (GEOs) has often been misunderstood or misrepresented. Yet proper comparisons of ecologically competent GEOs to the patterns of adaptation of introduced species have been highly useful among scientists in attempting to determine how to apply biological theory to specific GEO risk issues, and in attempting to define the probabilities and scale of ecological risks with GEOs. In truth, the model predicts that most projects may be environmentallysafe, but a significant minority may be very risky.
The model includes a history of institutional follies that also should remind workers of the danger of oversimplifying biological issues, and warn against repeating the sorts of professional misjudgments that have too often been made in introducing organisms to new settings.
We once expected that the non-indigenous species model would be refined by more analysis of species eruptions, ecological genetics, and the biology of select GEOs themselves, as outlined. But there has been political resistance to the effective regulation of GEOs, and a bureaucratic tendency to focus research agendas on narrow data collection. Thus there has been too little promotion by responsible agencies of studies to provide the broad conceptual base for truly science-based regulation. In its presently unrefined state, the non-indigenous species comparison would overestimate the risks of GEOs if it were (mis) applied to genetically disrupted, ecologically crippled GEOs, but in some cases of wild-type organisms with novel engineered traits, it could greatly underestimate the risks. Further analysis is urgently needed.