Gavin Ramsay

Coexistence and ecological biosafety of two GM crops in Europe

The three-year, EU-funded project SIGMEA combined skills from many disciplines to examine the biological, environmental, agronomic, economic and legal issues that determine whether GM and non-GM crops can feasibly be grown in the same agricultural landscape. Its conclusions differed for the two crops that have been most widely studied.

Map of field patterning in a study of cross pollination - provided by Enric Mele, SpainSIGMEA reported mainly on coexistence, but also on ecological biosafety. Coexistence refers to the need to separate, in the food production chain, different types of crop, such as those that have been developed with or without genetic modification. While zero impurity of one type of crop in another is impossible to guarantee, the EU had set a threshold of 0.9% GM content for produce that can be labelled as GM-free.

Increasing dietary mineral delivery through potatoes

Potato is the fourth most important crop worldwide after maize, wheat and rice and is a rich source of proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. Essential minerals are required in small amounts that enable the human body to produce enzymes, hormones and other substances essential for proper growth and development. In developing countries billions of people suffer from malnutrition caused by mineral micronutrient deficiency. These deficiencies are probably due to the high intake of staple food crops such as maize, wheat and rice that are deficient in essential minerals and low intake of mineral-rich fruits and vegetables (HarvestPlus).

Movement and Persistence of Genes in the Environment

Image of feral oilseed rape growing alongside a new field of oilseed rapeThe movements of genes and organisms over the landscape are natural processes that came to public attention in the assessment of GM crops. Issues on gene and seed movement go beyond the GM debate, and indeed, the major current research here on geneflow uses non-GM markers. The group combines statistical, molecular, genetic, mathematical and ecological skills to investigate the movement of genetic material and its consequences. It maintains large study areas in Tayside and in England in which it tracks the occurrence and persistence of volunteers, ferals and wild relatives.

Research projects

Research has developed in this topic for more than ten years through a series of projects funded from Europe, the UK and Scotland and from the research councils in collaboration with universities. Our contributions over this period include:

Ecological biosafety and gene flow

Image of Laying out field experiment in the Carse of GowrieThe agroecology group at SCRI continues to make major contributions through research and extension to questions on GM crops. We examine their potential roles in cropping systems, their positive and negative environmental effects, the movement of genetic material through pollen and seed and the  means by which GM and other crops might coexist in European agriculture. We combine knowledge of biology, modelling and molecular science to answer some of the most important topical questions in ecological biosafety. All our findings are made public. Members of the group are regularly invited to advise national and international commissions in biosafety and to develop training methods for environmental risk assessment.

Biodiversity

Photograph of sub-arctic willowA major challenge is to explore and understand plant biodiversity in natural and agricultural systems. Germplasm collections are central to these efforts and provide a means to understand the evolution, domestication and conservation of wild species, landraces and cultivars. They contain superior alleles for use in breeding and inform conservation policy. We will focus on clarifying the relationships between existing groups of species, investigating the link between sequence variation, recombination and linkage disequilibrium and quantifying biological diversity of native and endangered species for conservation purposes.

Genetics and Breeding

Photograph of Ben Klibreck blackcurrantsGenetic knowledge is a pre-requisite for the deployment of scientific breeding methods in crop improvement. Our strategy therefore is to produce new cultivars better adapted to growing conditions and end uses through the application of genetic research in collaboration with appropriate partners.

Our major focus is on barley, soft fruit (blackcurrant and raspberry) and potato. These crops each provide different challenges for genetic analysis and application to crop improvement. Barley is a diploid inbreeder, blackcurrants and raspberries are diploid outbreeders and potato is an autotetraploid outbreeder. Barley is propagated through seed whereas the other crops are reproduced vegetatively.

For all these crops, we evaluate the genetic variation within germplasm collections and apply the appropriate genome and gene expression analyses. From these, molecular breeding methods are developed and deployed, either through collaborations with commercial sponsors or through the release of enhanced germplasm.

See the crop-specific pages below for more information.

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