Assessment for Biotech Alfalfa
October 4, 2001
In the future, alfalfa growers will
have new biotech alfalfa varieties to choose from. New information and
recommendations to growers from an Agricultural Research Service study can
help prevent accidental dispersion of biotech pollen to volunteer alfalfa
Pollen can carry genetically engineered genes to wild alfalfa plants that
just appear in or near a field of planted crops or into a related species.
Thats why ARS plant geneticist Daniel Z. Skinner and other ARS
researchers conducted a 3-year biorisk assessment of mock transgenic alfalfa.
Alfalfa is pollinated by honey bees and leaf-cutter bees. A key factor in
setting isolation requirements for seed production is the amount of potential
pollen flow between adjacent alfalfa seed production fields.
Using a molecular marker found in alfalfa, Skinner and research associate
Paul St. Amand tracked alfalfa pollen movement from seed and hay fields.
Leafcutter bees, used in commercial seed production, fly directly from their
hives for a distance of more than a half mile and back home. Because a minimum
isolation distance of 5,109 feet from the hive may be required to prevent gene
flow in alfalfa, Skinner says that producers would want to consider changing
their seed production practices.
Bee hives need to be placed in the center, instead of along the side of the
alfalfa field. Also, planting flowering crops like birdsfoot trefoil or
sainfoin may get the bees to stop at the border of the field.
A full report on this work can be found in the
issue of Agricultural
Research magazine, ARS monthly publication.
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency. Skinner is based in
Pullman, Wash., at the ARS Wheat
Genetics, Quality, Physiology and Disease Research Unit.