Transgenic Organisms

Part of the series Advances in Life Sciences pp 147-161

Recent advances in ecological biosafety research on the risks of transgenic plants: A trans-continental perspective

  • I. M. ParkerAffiliated withDepartment of Botany, University of Washington
  • , D. BartschAffiliated withDepartment of Biology V (Ecology, Ecotoxicology and Ecochemistry), Technical University of Aachen

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Until recently, ecological tests of invasiveness for transgenic plants have investigated traits with limited ecological relevance, and so the fact that most have shown no additional risk of invasion is not surprising. Similarly, results to date provide us with little confidence in the opinion held by many in the biotechnology industry that genetic engineering is unconditionally safe. The experimental biosafety research has resulted in a situation where companies in some countries have gained permission to grow potentially “risky” transgenic plants on a commercial scale, without substantial ecological data quantifying the risk they pose. Perhaps experiments on transgenic organisms so far have been more useful in generating new questions and new concepts of ecological risk assessment than in providing generalisations about organisms themselves. In cases where predictions of risk have a high degree of uncertainty, or if the sheer volume of field releases overwhelms this stage of biosafety assessment, monitoring potential ecological long-term effects is the final method of choice. This situation underscores the need for solid monitoring programs in the future.