While promising the possibility of hardier crops and a larger, more robust food supply for the world, worries continue over the effect genetically engineered plants might have on the environment. One fear is over the movement of altered genes from domesticated populations to the wild and the effect of these "escaped" genes on ecosystems. In a study published in the December issue of Ecological Applications, Charity Cummings (University of Kansas), Helen Alexander (University of Kansas), Allison Snow (Ohio State University), Loren Riesenberg (University of Indiana) and colleagues tracked the movement of three specific alleles, or genes, in wild and domesticated sunflowers to determine how often and to what extent these plant populations will hybridize and pass specific genes on to the next generation.
Domesticated sunflowers are commonly grown in the plains states of the US and California, and the wild sunflower is a native, annual weed that occurs throughout most of the US. Sunflower and other crops are currently under development for a variety of traits to make them more resistant to fungi and pests. Currently wild sunflowers pose a problem for farmers as a weed in domesticated sunflower crops. These already weedy plants could cause even more damage if a gene for insect resistance crossed into the wild population from the cultivated sunflowers.
Many undergraduate biology students conduct an experiment using daphnia, crickets or other small invertebrates, measuring the number of offspring produced, how many survive and several other factors to understand survivorship and other population concepts. The scientists used a similar approach to predict the likelihood of genes from hybrid crops entering wild populations and staying in the wild sunflowers. Starting with a hundred wild plants and a hundred crop-wild hybrids, the scientists set up three plots and observed the sunflowers for two growing seasons, collecting the seeds to analyze the protein and gene flow between generations of plants.
Annie Drinkard | EurekAlert!
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This is a joint press release of University Muenster and Heidelberg as well as the GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung in Darmstadt.
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Thin-film solar cells made of crystalline silicon are inexpensive and achieve efficiencies of a good 14 percent. However, they could do even better if their shiny surfaces reflected less light. A team led by Prof. Christiane Becker from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) has now patented a sophisticated new solution to this problem.
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A study in the journal Bulletin of Marine Science describes a new, blood-red species of octocoral found in Panama. The species in the genus Thesea was discovered in the threatened low-light reef environment on Hannibal Bank, 60 kilometers off mainland Pacific Panama, by researchers at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama (STRI) and the Centro de Investigación en Ciencias del Mar y Limnología (CIMAR) at the University of Costa Rica.
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