Spread of herbicide-resistance from genetically modified creeping
bentgrass into the wild.
Creeping bentgrass (Agrostis stolonifera L.).
Inserted Transgenes and Intended Effect:
CP4 EPSPS gene derived from the common soil bacterium
Agrobacterium sp. (strain CP4) to convey resistance to the
herbicide glyphosate. The gene was fused to the cauliflower mosaic virus
(CaMV-35S) promoter so that the gene would be expressed in all parts of
the plant. Creeping bentgrass is a widely used golf course grass. Monsanto
and Scotts Company developed the herbicide-resistant variety with this
market in mind.
Goal of These Studies:
Investigate whether the herbicide resistance gene in glyphosate-resistant
creeping bentgrass (GRCB) can spread into the wild through seeds, pollen,
or shoot segments (stolons). These studies were carried out in Jefferson
County, Oregon, around an Oregon Department of Agriculture control
area where in 2002 in a field trial Scotts Company had planted 162 ha (400
acres) of transgenic creeping bentgrass which flowered in 2003. GRCB
was the first genetically engineered plant in the U.S. for which an
environmental impact statement was requested; the planting was done under
a USDA permit. The studies were carried out by the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency and university scientists (see below).
Results of these Studies:
The transgene escaped into the wild by seeds (which are very small and
light - about 13,500 seeds weigh one gram) and by pollen.
Watrud et al. (2004) found that the herbicide-resistance transgene
spread via pollen to an area up to 21 km (13 miles) beyond the control
area perimeter and had pollinated wild creeping bentgrass as well as a
close relative (redtop, Agrostis gigantean). 53% of the creeping
bentgrass plants investigated had offspring that were herbicide-resistant;
most of these plants were found in a 2.1 km (1.3 mi.) area outside and
downwind of the control area.
The 162 ha of GRCB were taken out of production after seed harvest in
2003; a small 2.4 ha (6 acres) area was planted that year and seeds were
harvested in 2004. No more planting of GRCB occurred after that. In 2004
and 2005 Reichmann et al. (2006) did a survey of an area outside the
control area perimeter and detected nine creeping bentgrass plants that
tested positive for herbicide resistance. They were found up to 3.8 km
(2.4 mi.) beyond the control area, and the authors conclude that there
was both seed dispersal and pollen-mediated crossing with wild creeping
Using other methods, Zapiola et al. (2008) carried out a study from 2003
to 2006 in which they surveyed areas outside the control perimeter for
GRCB. In 2003 they found no transgenic plants, but in 2004, 2005 and 2006
they found many: of the creeping bentgrass tested, in 2004 93%, in 2005
54%, and in 2006 62% were glyphosate resistant. The plants were found in
an area up to 4.6 km ( 2.9 mi.) beyond the area were the GM plants had
originally been grown. The authors believe that this transgene spread
occurred mainly via seed dispersal.
Creeping bentgrass is an outcrossing grass and part of a hybridizing
network of at least twelve other grass species of Agrostis
and Polypogon, four of which grow wild in central
Oregon. Agrostis species are flexible and variable in their
morphology and grow in a variety of agronomic and nonagricultural
Zapiola et al. remark that it is "unrealistic to think that a transgene
could be contained in an outcrossing, wind-pollinated, small-seeded,
perennial crop, even with expanded isolation distances and stringent
production practices" (p. 5). Moreover, since many specimens of transgenic
creeping bentgrass were found three years after the large field trial,
the "elimination of transgenes is unlikely to be feasible," especially
since within the control area "an intense and extended mitigation program
had been initiated and is still underway [by The Scotts Company]" (p. 7).
In November 2007 the USDA reached a settlement with The Scotts Company,
which agreed to pay a $500,000 civil penalty for failing to comply
with "performance standards and permit conditions" and for accidental
release of the transgenic bentgrass in the 2003 field trials (USDA
News Release No. 0350.07).
Reichman, J., L. Watrud, E. Lee, C. Burdick et al. (2006). "Establishment
of Transgenic Herbicide-Resistant Creeping Bentgrass (Agrostis
stolonifera L.) in Nonagronomic Habitats," Molecular Ecology
vol. 15, pp. 4243-55.
Watrud, L., E. Lee, A. Fairbrother, C. Burdick et al. (2004). "Evidence
for Landscape-level, Pollen-mediated Gen Flow from Genetically Modified
Creeping Bentgrass with CP4 EPSPS as a Marker," PNAS vol. 101,
Zapiola, M., C. Campbell, M. Butler, and C. Mallory-Smith (2008). "Escape
and Establishment of Transgenic Glyphosate-resistant Creeping Bentgrass
(Agrostis stolonifera) in Oregon, USA: A 4-year Study," Journal
of Applied Ecology doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2664.2007.01430.x
Reichman et al.: Western Ecology Division of the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency; Dynamac Corporation; Oregon State University,
Department of Crop and Soil Science, Corvallis.
Watrud et al.: Western Ecology Division of the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency; Dynamac Corporation; U.S. Geological Survey, Corvallis, Oregon.
Zapiola et al.: Oregon State University, Corvallis; Oregon State
University, Central Oregon Agricultural Research Center, Madras.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (Reichman et al. and Watrud et al.);
USDA grants, Scotts Company (Zapiola et al.).
Not on the market as of January 2008. Monsanto and Scotts Companies have
petitioned the USDA to deregulate their glyphosate-resistant creeping
bentgrass so that it can be sold commercially. The petition is under
consideration by the USDA.
Copyright 2008 The Nature