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Is genetic engineering ever going to take off in forage, turf and bioenergy crop breeding?

Wang, Zeng-Yu, Brummer, E. Charles
Annals of botany 2012 v.110 no.6 pp. 1317-1325
Festuca arundinacea, Lolium perenne, Panicum virgatum, Trifolium repens, alfalfa, bioenergy, biosafety, canola, cash crops, commercialization, corn, cotton, cultivars, energy crops, environmental impact, forage crops, forage grasses, gene pool, genetic engineering, genetic variation, heritability, inbreeding, lawns and turf, outcrossing, plant breeding, risk assessment, soybeans, transgenes, transgenic plants, United States
Background Genetic engineering offers the opportunity to generate unique genetic variation that is either absent in the sexually compatible gene pool or has very low heritability. The generation of transgenic plants, coupled with breeding, has led to the production of widely used transgenic cultivars in several major cash crops, such as maize, soybean, cotton and canola. The process for regulatory approval of genetically engineered crops is slow and subject to extensive political interference. The situation in forage grasses and legumes is more complicated. Scope Most widely grown forage, turf and bioenergy species (e.g. tall fescue, perennial ryegrass, switchgrass, alfalfa, white clover) are highly self-incompatible and outcrossing. Compared with inbreeding species, they have a high potential to pass their genes to adjacent plants. A major biosafety concern in these species is pollen-mediated transgene flow. Because human consumption is indirect, risk assessment of transgenic forage, turf and bioenergy species has focused on their environmental or ecological impacts. Although significant progress has been made in genetic modification of these species, commercialization of transgenic cultivars is very limited because of the stringent and costly regulatory requirements. To date, the only transgenic forage crop deregulated in the US is ‘Roundup Ready’ (RR) alfalfa. The approval process for RR alfalfa was complicated, involving several rounds of regulation, deregulation and re-regulation. Nevertheless, commercialization of RR alfalfa is an important step forward in regulatory approval of a perennial outcrossing forage crop. As additional transgenic forage, turf and bioenergy crops are generated and tested, different strategies have been developed to meet regulatory requirements. Recent progress in risk assessment and deregulation of transgenic forage and turf species is summarized and discussed.