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Biotech

GM Rice Passes Unexpected Benefits To Weeds 208

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the attack-of-the-killer-rice dept.
ananyo writes "A genetic-modification technique used widely to make crops herbicide resistant has been shown to confer advantages on a weedy form of rice, even in the absence of the herbicide. Used in Monsanto's 'Roundup Ready' crops, for example, resistance to the herbicide glyphosate enables farmers to wipe out most weeds from the fields without damaging their crops. A common assumption has been that if such herbicide resistance genes manage to make it into weedy or wild relatives, they would be disadvantageous and plants containing them would die out. But the new study led by Lu Baorong, an ecologist at Fudan University in Shanghai, challenges that view: it shows that a weedy form of the common rice crop, Oryza sativa, gets a significant fitness boost from glyphosate resistance, even when glyphosate is not applied. The transgenic hybrids had higher rates of photosynthesis, grew more shoots and flowers and produced 48 — 125% more seeds per plant than non-transgenic hybrids — in the absence of glyphosate, the weedkiller they were resistant to."
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GM Rice Passes Unexpected Benefits To Weeds

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  • so (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Who is Monsanto going to sue over this??

    • Re:so (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Baloroth (2370816) on Monday August 19, 2013 @07:09PM (#44612573)

      Who is Monsanto going to sue over this??

      Why would you assume Monsanto doesn't like this news? If the resistance in weeds won't naturally die out over time, that means glyphosate will become less effective over time even if it stops being used. Since Monsanto's patents don't last forever (yet), that means they can develop and patent a new genetic modification and herbicide (and the "process" of using one with the other, because that is apparently inventive all in itself) that will be required once glyphosate loses its effectiveness. If glyphosate didn't lose it's effectiveness, people would just keep using that after Monsanto lost their monopoly.

      In fact, I wouldn't be terribly surprised, given Monsanto's history, to find out they already knew about this "problem." Maybe even planned it that way.

      • They might like the news that their modifications don't harm other plants, but why do you think that'd keep them from suing? Wanting to have the cake and eat it too is hardly news for any corporation.

      • by sjames (1099)

        That doesn't mean they don't want to sue someone. They always want to sue someone.

    • by kheldan (1460303)

      Who is Monsanto going to sue over this??

      Honey bees, obviously. And since honey bees don't have lawyers, and Monsanto obviously will have cross-bred honey badgers with lawyers, the bees will quickly become toast in court. Since bees don't have money or own property, Monsanto will just take posession of honey bees all over the world (read as: make them intellectual property of Monsanto), anyone using pollination as part of the process of raising any crops without paying royalties to Monsanto will have the crap sued out of them (by Monsanto's crack

  • Which means that it's very likely that in the presence of glyphosate their yield will drop.

    Which means glyphosate is acting on other biological pathways we still do not yet understand.

    And yet we still consider this stuff to be safe to use.

    I'd rather just use bacillus thuringiensis.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by drakonandor (937885)
      Might be wrong, but bacillus thuringiensis is primarily used because of it's effectiveness as a -pesticide-. Glyphosate, as discussed here, is primarily used as a -herbicide-.
      • Might be wrong, but bacillus thuringiensis is primarily used because of it's effectiveness as a -pesticide-. Glyphosate, as discussed here, is primarily used as a -herbicide-.

        Both are pesticides...

        Bt is used as an insecticide, both in GMO and conventional forms.

        Glyphosate is a herbicide.

        • by slick7 (1703596)

          Might be wrong, but bacillus thuringiensis is primarily used because of it's effectiveness as a -pesticide-. Glyphosate, as discussed here, is primarily used as a -herbicide-.

          Both are pesticides...

          Bt is used as an insecticide, both in GMO and conventional forms.

          Glyphosate is a herbicide.

          Monsanto is a genetic humana-cide.

    • by tsa (15680)

      Which means that it's very likely that in the presence of glyphosate their yield will drop.

      Which means glyphosate is acting on other biological pathways we still do not yet understand.

      And yet we still consider this stuff to be safe to use.

      It seems on first sight to be a positive story but it's actually pretty scary. Who knows what secret abilities other GM plants have? How will you ever know that the modification you give an organism only does what it's intended to do?q

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      No, I read the article when I saw it in the firehose. The headline is exactly backwards and doesn't even jibe with the summary. It doesn't pass any benefits to weeds at all. It does confer benefits when glysophate is used, as TFA notes. After all, that's what this rice was engineered for.

      The interesting thing is that rather than unintended consequences, there were unexpected benefits.

      • by sjames (1099)

        According to TFS and TFA, the hybrid weeds produce 48-125% more seeds and have a higher rate of photosynthesis, both are beneficial.

        But now a study led by Lu Baorong, an ecologist at Fudan University in Shanghai, challenges that view: it shows that a weedy form of the common rice crop, Oryza sativa, gets a significant fitness boost from glyphosate resistance, even when glyphosate is not applied.

      • by plopez (54068)

        Until domesticated strains are wiped out by herbicide resistant wild strains....

    • As luck would have it, I was reading this [wikipedia.org] earlier today...

    • by slick7 (1703596)

      Which means that it's very likely that in the presence of glyphosate their yield will drop.

      Which means glyphosate is acting on other biological pathways we still do not yet understand.

      And yet we still consider this stuff to be safe to use.

      I'd rather just use bacillus thuringiensis.

      If GMO rice passes traits to weeds, what does it pass on to humans?

      • by ozydingo (922211)

        That must be some kinky pr0n you're watching...

        (Hint for the slow ... it passes these traits by cross-breeding, which is, of course, not saying anything about the presence or absence of effects due to consumption and digestion)

    • by phantomfive (622387) on Monday August 19, 2013 @07:32PM (#44612753) Journal

      Which means glyphosate is acting on other biological pathways we still do not yet understand.

      Manure acts on biological pathways we do not understand, and some of the ways it does act are known to be dangerous. Yet it's a fully organic fertilizer.

      In biology, if you wait until you know everything, then nothing will ever get done. Sometimes you just have to narrow down the risk to as small as possible. In the case of Roundup, a lot of studies have been done testing the danger to human health, and it seems to be no more dangerous than manure.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Curunir_wolf (588405)

        In the case of Roundup, a lot of studies have been done testing the danger to human health, and it seems to be no more dangerous than manure.

        Well, there have been a lot of studies run by Monsanto that seem to show that. But then there are other studies [huffingtonpost.com] that show links to Parkinson's and Autism [mdpi.com], cancer, degradation of soil nutrients [wiley.com], as well as lethal effects in amphibians [pitt.edu], and perhaps most alarming, a recent study found roundup in the urine of 44% of European Union citizens [wsj.com]. Not only that, but it seems that it is actually many of the adjucts used in Roundup applications that are being shown to have the most toxicity [organicconsumers.org], an issue most of the studi

        • Great, you have some exploratory studies that show potential research avenues for further looking into. Now compare those to the known negative effects of manure, and you'll have a more complete view of the topic.
          • Great, you have some exploratory studies that show potential research avenues for further looking into. Now compare those to the known negative effects of manure, and you'll have a more complete view of the topic.

            Because Roundup has just as long and wide-spread history of use in human agriculture as manure?

            • Because you're foolish if you only look at one side of an issue.
            • by Nemyst (1383049)
              Lead has had an extremely long life as a common metal throughout humanity for piping, building and much more. You can't assume that just because something has been around for a long time that it's going to be fine, that's foolish. Likewise, assuming that anything GM is going to be more dangerous is rather shortsighted. Remember, most of the stuff we eat is GM, it just happened through more traditional methods.
      • Manure acts on biological pathways we do not understand, and some of the ways it does act are known to be dangerous.

        But whatever the supposed dangers of manure, it has been used for thousands of years without any observed significant ill effect. I'd call that a pretty solid testing period.

        • But whatever the supposed dangers of manure, it has been used for thousands of years without any observed significant ill effect.

          There's plenty of ill effect from using manure. I don't even know why you would not think that putting shit on food would not cause ill effect.

        • Without proper sanitation, it's a known pathway for pathogens - you see it every so often in leafy greens from California (and other places) when feces end up in the fields.

          • "Without proper sanitation" being the key phrase. In other words it's known how to use it properly. Very few things are so idiot proof that they can't be used incorrectly.

            As for "you see it every so often in leafy greens from California (and other places) when feces end up in the fields", the big problem there is human feces from harvesters who don't have a proper and convenient place to go. Yeah, somebody taking a dump on the veggies is a health hazard, but has nothing to do with the application of properl

            • by Dare nMc (468959)

              Exactly the same is Roundup. We know that you don't want to get any on the farmers (during application), and we know we don't want to spray it close to harvest. They know if you don't spray either close to harvest, insignificant amounts (ie none) will be on/in the food. And no one will get ill.

          • Indeed, in cultures where it is tradition to use manure as fertilizer, vegetables are usually cooked instead of eaten fresh to prevent the spread of bacteria.
            • You mean like France, Italy, Spain and Greece, all of which traditionally use manure as fertilizer and have lots of raw vegetables in their foods?

  • "A common assumption has been that if such herbicide resistance genes manage to make it into weedy or wild relatives, they would be disadvantageous and plants containing them would die out. "

    ...errr....don't you mean...not die out? And isn't the story here that a presumed barrier was crossed, not that it was a good thing...to some?
    • No. We're talking about the plants here, so that's "disadvantageous" from the viewpoint of the plants.

    • by Baloroth (2370816)

      The assumption is that the gene results in changes that are energy unfavorable to the plant (the protection against glyphosate is presumably not free, requiring the production of extra proteins or something. I'm not a biologists, not sure how the resistance works). This energy deficit in herbicide resistant weeds means they will naturally be selected against, without exposure to the herbicide. This is the case for bacteria and anti-biotic resistance (at least in most cases). Turns out, in this case, the gen

      • " I'm not a biologists, not sure how the resistance works"

        You got the explanation right, maybe you should take up biology :-)

        Glyphosphate resistance is actually relatively subtle - the "foreign" gene that's been inserted is one for a protein that serves the same function as one of the plant's "natural" genes that is inhibited by glyposphate, but this version comes from a bacterium. It's different enough that glyphosphate doesn't bother it, so while the plant's "natural" version of the gene is affected by

    • Re:Wait...what? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Valdrax (32670) on Monday August 19, 2013 @07:04PM (#44612539)

      The notion was that traits like glyphosate resistance bear a certain cost which would be why they haven't arisen naturally and been preserved. This can be seen in antibiotic resistance in bacteria, though even there it takes many, many generations for this to sort itself out.

      So, if genes cross into wild plants, the idea was that they'd cause the "contaminated" wild plants to be losers, which would self-limit the propagation of such genes in the wild. Unfortunately, the opposite seems to be the case: the genes that cause glyphosate resistance are actually a win-win for the plants receiving them, meaning that they'll have a competitive advantage even without glyphosate artificially putting selection pressure on them, which means the genes will actively spread in wild plants due to natural selection.

      • by lkcl (517947)

        which means the genes will actively spread in wild plants due to natural selection.

        and we've seen how the introduction of rabbits, foxes and other non-naturally-occurring animals into australia worked out, and how japanese bind weed has worked out when introduced outside of japan.

        i cannot begin to voice how insanely dangerous it is to put random genes into food crops like this. the nightmare i "made up" one day was these insane "time-bomb" crops, where crops can be planted and grow but the seeds it creates are sterile. "commercially" this is incredibly "valuable" as it allows total cont

        • by Holi (250190)

          Yes the technology exists to make plants sterile, but the use of the Terminator Gene [monsanto.com] has never been sold or used by Monsanto.

        • by evilviper (135110)

          i cannot begin to voice how insanely dangerous it is to put random genes into food crops like this.

          We've been modifying crops for millennia. What you think of "natural" is heavily modified. Apocalypse has been entirely averted thus far. I see no reason to go all tin-foil hat just because we've gotten significantly better at doing it quicker and with fewer side effects.

          now imagine some completely insane person creating "generation" time-bomb seeds, which grow, seed, grow, seed then grow sterile. now imag

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      The only thing bad found (aside from the already known resistance weeds evolve for) was the headline. The real story is that these have higher yields than non-GM even in the absence of glyphosate.

      • Not true. FTA:

        it shows that a weedy form of the common rice crop, Oryza sativa, gets a significant fitness boost from glyphosate resistance, even when glyphosate is not applied. ...The researchers also found that the transgenic hybrids had higher rates of photosynthesis, grew more shoots and flowers and produced 48–125% more seeds per plant than non-transgenic hybrids — in the absence of glyphosate. Making weedy rice more competitive could exacerbate the problems it causes for farmers around the world whose plots are invaded by the pest, Lu says.

        Having weeds that are hardier and more competitive, even in the absence of glyphosate, is hardly desirable.

    • Re:Wait...what? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by radtea (464814) on Monday August 19, 2013 @07:09PM (#44612571)

      ...errr....don't you mean...not die out? And isn't the story here that a presumed barrier was crossed, not that it was a good thing...to some?

      Nope. Hybridization is incredibly common amongst plants, so everyone who has ever given GMOs any thought has known all along that the genes would get loose. I've posted about this on /. and elsewhere for years, and presumably others have too.

      The important story is that the GMO/hybrids are seeing some selective advantage, which is what people are surprised at: the assumption was that since these genes do not occur in these plants in nature, the odds of them conferring any selective advantage were extremely low. It would be like any random mutation: billions-to-one odds against being beneficial, because there are billions of ways of screwing up the molecular machinery of the cell and only a few ways of making it better (in part because organisms are by definition pretty well adapted to their environment in almost all cases... if they weren't they would have been out-competed by their better-adapted cousins.

      I'm not opposed to GMOs as such, because it is stupid to be opposed to an abstraction as diverse as "GMO"--it would be like being opposed to "nuclear power", say, because one particular type of reactor has proven to be uneconomic. But putting responsibility for GMOs into the hands of a small number of global agri-corps seems to me a fairly bad idea because they are going to downplay the risks posed by the genes getting loose, be more concerned with deploying organisms that are profitable rather than sustainable (Roundup Ready plants are a good example of something I'm very leery of.)

      • I'm not opposed to GMOs as such, because it is stupid to be opposed to an abstraction as diverse as "GMO"

        A very sensible attitude, far from the usual unqualified pro or con.

        But putting responsibility for GMOs into the hands of a small number of global agri-corps seems to me a fairly bad idea because they are going to downplay the risks posed by the genes getting loose, be more concerned with deploying organisms that are profitable rather than sustainable (Roundup Ready plants are a good example of something I'm very leery of.)

        Gotta agree there too. Some things are potentially just too dangerous to be left to those whose only interest is making a buck in the short-term (and have a known history of being seriously sleazy bastards about it). Tetraethyl lead was introduced by people who knew damn well just how dangerous the stuff could be, but pulled all sorts of crap to hide that.

        • Well, it's a typical catch-22: people want these things extremely tested (which they are) and regulated. Testing and regulation is expensive on top of already highly expensive high-tech science R&D. Hence, there's a very, very high barrier to entry in these industries and it's left up to the mega-corps that can afford it.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by radarskiy (2874255)

        To be specific, putting responsibility for GMOs in the hands of people *who do not understand natural selection* is a fairly bad idea.

      • by Spykk (823586)

        The important story is that the GMO/hybrids are seeing some selective advantage

        But do those advantages have anything to do with genetic modifications? Food crops have been selectively bred for thousands of years. The result of hybridizing a wild strain with a strain that has been carefully cultivated is all but guaranteed to produce something superior to the wild strain. Why assume those advantages are a result of the direct modification of genes rather than plain old unnatural selection?

  • by sandbagger (654585) on Monday August 19, 2013 @07:04PM (#44612537)

    Weird. Who could have foreseen that?

  • by NoKaOi (1415755) on Monday August 19, 2013 @07:04PM (#44612541)

    The headline is outright wrong and misleading. The headline implies that GM rice is passing the trait onto weeds. That is not the case here. The study has nothing to do with whether or not the traits can get passed to weeds from GM rice. The study is not saying that GM rice passed anything along to weeds. It is saying that when intentionally GM'd, the weeds get benefits other than just glyphosate resistance. The stated conclusion of the article is that if the trait got into the weed it would be bad. Duh. The thing that makes the study a bit interesting is that it challenges a previous assumption regarding why it would be bad.

    • From the abstract
      "herbicide resistance is expected to spread to conspecific weedy rice (Oryza sativa f. spontanea) via hybridization"

      • by NoKaOi (1415755)

        From the abstract
        "herbicide resistance is expected to spread to conspecific weedy rice (Oryza sativa f. spontanea) via hybridization"

        Exactly. The study does not say it has. And this particular study isn't even related to how or how likely resistance would get passed to the weeds. The headline, on the other hand, says GM rice "passes" which means it currently is passing, which is a lie. I'm not saying the study doesn't mean anything important, I'm saying it doesn't mean what the headline says it means. It is the headline that is the problem, not the study. Something about journalistic integrity or whatever that concept was that does

        • The headline says rice passes unexpected benefits to weeds. It does not say how or under what circumstances it passes them. You're making assumptions and reading something into the headline that isn't there.

        • No it doesn't say that it has happened. Only an idiot would release this into the environment.

          That would be like the NTSB allowing a car on the road that they expected to explode under normal usage.

      • Just to emphasize your point, the weeds they're talking about are a "degenerated" subspecies of the cultivated rice. They're the same species, which makes it awfully easy to pass on the traits.

    • Wait.. someone intentionally created GM weeds?!?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by minstrelmike (1602771)

        Wait.. someone intentionally created GM weeds?!?

        Yes. We do this with every chemical used on 'weeds.' It's called evolution.
        It is similar to the way we are currently creating antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
        What goes around comes around.

  • A common assumption has been that if such herbicide resistance genes manage to make it into weedy or wild relatives, they would be disadvantageous and plants containing them would die out.

    Why would resistance to herbicide be disadvantageous? Obviously it might turn out to be, but why would anyone just assume that? If anything I would be tempted to assume the opposite.

    • It's assumed that the extra effort the plant puts into being glyphosate resistant (producing more of an enzyme known as EPSP synthase), which they assume serves no purpose in the wild (i.e. in the absence of glyphosate) would take away from some "effort" that the plant puts into being hardy under wild conditions. It's the same reason that cultivated fruit trees (e.g. oranges, apples) don't do as well in the wild as their native cousins. They've been breed to put "effort" into producing large fruits, which i

  • On behallf of Monsanto let me say, "Tough shit!"

  • Profit! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Monday August 19, 2013 @07:37PM (#44612821)

    1. Read an interesting article on GMO rice.
    2. Totally botch the summary.
    3. Even further botch the headline.
    4. Submit to Slashdot.
    5. ????
    6. Your work is on the front page of Slashdot!!

  • I heartily expect the GMO, patent encumbered rice will be rejected all over. Nothing says "our rice will weed out your rice and sue you into slavery" quite like this.

  • The transgenic hybrids had higher rates of photosynthesis, grew more shoots and flowers and produced 48 — 125% more seeds per plant than non-transgenic hybrids

    That's not necessarily a fitness boost.

    By analogy, having the genes that let you become a top athlete isn't a fitness boost either, otherwise we'd all have them by now.

  • by ilsaloving (1534307) on Monday August 19, 2013 @08:40PM (#44613335)

    Monsanto can just sue the weeds for copyright infringement. Problem solved. ;)

  • "his colleagues genetically modified the cultivated rice species to overexpress its own EPSP synthase[...] genetically identical to one another except in the number of copies of the gene encoding EPSP synthase."

    Whoa, I missed that from the summary initially - this is NOT the foreign "glyphosphate resistant" bacterial version of the gene they're talking about here.

    This sort of thing ("gene duplication" mutations) can happen naturally - it sounds like this exact variety of "GM Rice" COULD have been produced

    • by hibiki_r (649814)

      Molecular breeding helps increase the yield of wildtypes, film at 11!

      Next, we'll hear that hybrid corn has better yield than straight inbreds.

  • futile

    - Space 1999

  • The road to hell is paved with gold... no, that's not right.

    The road to hell is paved with unintended consequenses... no that's not it, either.

    The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Yes, that sounds right.

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