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Scientist points out possibility of Roundup Ready wheat crossing with goatgrass weed

(February 5, 2001 -- Cropchoice news) -- As European markets warn farmers not to plant Monsanto's Roundup Ready wheat because they'll reject it, a California scientist has something else farmers should consider.

It's a weed called goatgrass.

Goatgrass is a wild relative of wheat, says Norman Ellstrand, a professor of genetics at the University of California at Riverside. He noted a case in which researchers in the Pacific Northwest crossed herbicide resistant wheat (achieved through traditional hybridization) and goatgrass. The resulting wheat-goatgrass hybrid was highly, though NOT totally, sterile.

If some of the children of this now herbicide resistant weed were to backcross with wild goatgrass, Ellstrand says, "we expect that the herbicide resistant gene would spread through the population."

Were the Roundup Ready-resistant gene to show up in goatgrass, he says, wheat growers would have a problem. They couldn't use Roundup. Instead, they'd have to apply more expensive or more environmentally noxious herbicides. What's more, neighboring farmers who are growing a different crop and using Roundup would face problems if the resistant goatgrass spread into their fields.

Tom Nickson, director of Monsanto's Ecological Technology Center, calls this an oversimplified analysis.

The company is working with researchers at the University of Idaho and Oregon State University to understand the likelihood and consequence of gene flow from Roundup Ready wheat to goatgrass, Nickson says.

"Jointed goatgrass is only one-third genetically similar to wheat," he says. "Depending on which chromosome in the wheat the gene (herbicide resistant) is located, the likelihood of that gene becoming part of goatgrass could be effectively zero."