Assessing GM canola's threat to native bushland

March 7, 2016 by Jo Fulwood, Sciencenetwork Wa
The study tracked the survival of canola seeds that had blown from paddock windrows into nearby remnant bushland in WA’s central Wheatbelt. Credit: Jiahui Huang

Can genetically modified (GM) canola (Brassica napus) survive outside a controlled paddock environment, and is it a biodiversity threat to our remnant bushland?

Scientists have been researching this very question since 2009, when WA farmers were granted an exemption to the moratorium on the planting of GM canola.

According to University of Western Australia (UWA) plant biologists Dr Roberto Busi and Professor Stephen Powles the simple answer is no.

Results from their four-year study investigating the demographics of transgenic glyphosate-resistant canola have quashed concerns that GM canola is competitive enough to survive in a natural bushland environment.

In fact, it only took three years for the displaced canola to become extinct, Dr Busi says.

The study tracked the survival of canola seeds that had blown from paddock windrows into nearby remnant bushland in WA's central Wheatbelt.

After the first year of plant establishment in the remnant bushland Dr Busi counted up to 30,000 seeds that all could have germinated in the following year.

However, after three years, no canola plants were visible.

"We believe the inability of the canola to survive in the long term was a combination of factors including attacks by insects, such as aphids and ants, attacks by vertebrate herbivores, such as rabbits, and fungal disease," he says

"Also drought conditions, and competition from other weeds such as ryegrass and brome grass played a part in the extinction of the plant.

"Our conclusion is that the study clearly shows there is no risk of transgenic glyphosate-resistant canola becoming a biodiversity risk."

The study also investigated GM canola plant survival rates on metropolitan road verges, particularly around grain delivery sites.

Where road verges were maintained using only glyphosate to control weeds, transgenic glyphosate-resistant canola obviously flourished, Dr Busi says.

"We surveyed a three kilometre strip near Co-operative Bulk Handling's Metro Grain Centre in Forrestfield, and because of grain spillages in the area, there were many weeds on the verges," he says.

"Because glyphosate is used on roadsides to control weeds, it had removed every other weed apart from canola volunteers and allowed those plants to survive and reproduce."

Dr Busi says the findings from the study would be used to encourage Main Roads WA and local governments to use other herbicide groups to maintain road verges to combat volunteer transgenic glyphosate-resistant and other weeds.

The study was funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation.

Explore further: Weed sizzle holds potential for paddock control

Related Stories

Researcher to Study Gene Flow 'Hot Spots' in Canola

April 24, 2008

A University of Arkansas researcher and her colleagues have won a joint grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency to look at the combined effects of global climate change on weed ...

Canola genome sequence reveals evolutionary 'love triangle'

August 21, 2014

An international team of scientists including researchers from the University of Georgia recently published the genome of Brassica napus—commonly known as canola—in the journal Science. Their discovery paves the way for ...

Canola seeds studied for superior strains

July 2, 2015

UWA scientists are hoping a better molecular understanding of canola (Brassica napus L.) seed germination will enable them to breed superior cultivars, following research into strains that demonstrate contrasting germination ...

Recommended for you

Biofilms—the eradication has begun

June 22, 2017

Have you ever heard of biofilms? They are slimy, glue-like membranes that are produced by microbes, like bacteria and fungi, in order to colonize surfaces. They can grow on animal and plant tissues, and even inside the human ...

How did bird babysitting co-ops evolve?

June 21, 2017

The common understanding of evolution is that it is a battle for survival: one must either "scrunch or be scrunched," as Nicodemus Boffin, the Dickens' character, famously says.

Researchers find new mechanism for genome regulation

June 21, 2017

The same mechanisms that quickly separate mixtures of oil and water are at play when controlling the organization in an unusual part of our DNA called heterochromatin, according to a new study by researchers at the Department ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.