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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

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Research Project: Fostering Coexistence: Industry-Driven Field and Landscape Research on Pollen Flow in Ge Alfalfa

Location: Plant Germplasm Introduction and Testing

2013 Annual Report


1a.Objectives (from AD-416):
Since 2007, the alfalfa industry has been working to develop coexistence strategies for genetically engineered Round Up Ready alfalfa (RRA). The National Alfalfa and Forage Alliance spearheaded efforts, and more recently, alfalfa seed producers have been working with AOSCA to develop an Alfalfa Seed Stewardship Program (ASSP). With the deregulation of RRA in February 2011, there is an urgent need to complete and implement coexistence strategies to protect the export seed market and other alfalfa markets that are sensitive to the adventitious presence (AP) of transgenic traits. Industry recognizes research is needed at the commercial scale to better understand pollen-mediated RRA transgene flow in the landscape. Extended conversations with alfalfa producers and breeding companies have led to the following objectives of our proposal: (1) to examine how leaf cutter and alkali bees transmit RRA across commercial seed fields and how that will impact proposed harvest strategies that separate seed for non AP- and AP- sensitive markets and to examine the persistence of RRA pollen in honeybee hives; (2) to characterize fitness parameters such as seed production, seed dormancy and viability, longevity in the seed bank, seedling establishment and plant persistence, in feral and feral-RRA hybrid alfalfa to determine how important and to what extent control strategies are required; (3) to track RRA transgene flow from RRA hay and seed production fields planted during the previous deregulation (seed fields were removed in 2007) into feral alfalfa to understand the role feral alfalfa plays as a transgene reservoir and vector for long distance transgene dispersal; (4) to study the transmission of the RR transgene from RRA hay fields to conventional seed fields to refine isolation distances by taking into account landscape variables.


1b.Approach (from AD-416):
This project will focus on the three main alfalfa seed and hay production areas in the Western United States: the Walla Walla valley and Columbia Basin in Washington, the Treasure Valley in Idaho and Oregon, and Fresno County in California. Monsanto has agreed to provide us with the locations of RRA hay and seed fields and will be giving us permission to use their event-specific PCR primers. We will be using greenhouse seedling assays and protein based, commercially available test strips to carry out qualitative tests for RRA presence in leaf, seed and hay sampling. Positive tests will be confirmed using PCR. Landscape genetics is a newly emerging field which provides powerful geostatistical tools to understand how gene flow is influenced by landscape variables. We will be using a landscape genetics approach to analyze transgene movement across the landscape. Since we want to generate information that has immediate relevance to industry’s efforts to establish coexistence strategies, our research will be focused at the commercial field and landscape level.


3.Progress Report:

This progress report addresses the work conducted on the project entitled: Fostering Coexistence: Industry-Driven Field and Landscape Research on Pollen Flow in GE Alfalfa. Although this grant was awarded in September 2011, we did not receive funding from NIFA until November 2012. To offset the delay, we requested and were approved to extend the project for 12 months. In 2013 we focused on setting up our study areas in three different counties: Fresno, California, Canyon, Idaho, and Walla Walla, Washington. In the fall and spring, we surveyed alfalfa seed and hay fields in each areas and obtained leaf samples which were tested for the RRA transgene. We also revisited positive feral populations to obtained individual plant leaf samples and take detailed demographic data. Based on our survey we identified conventional (CA) seed fields that could serve as trap fields to detect gene flow between positive roadside populations and CA seed fields, between roundup ready hay fields and CA seed fields and between RRA seed fields and CA seed fields. In total we have identified 68 fields to study. In June we conducted pollinator surveys in our study fields, and in August we began harvesting seed from these fields. We have developed high throughput methods for conducting leaf, seed and seedlings assays for the RRA transgene. Progress on this research was reported at the NIFA BRAG Project Director Meeting in June.


Last Modified: 10/1/2014
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