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Shining Some Light on the Sunflower

by Randolph Fillmore


Intro   |   A Widely Popular Crop   |   Escaping to the Wild   |   Potential Fixes   |  
Fruits of Further Study

Sunflower Facts



Escaping to the Wild

As agriculturally produced crops are genetically improved, an important issue is how to keep domesticated plants from cross-pollinating with wild strains via gene flow, the process by which biological populations naturally mix their traits. Not surprisingly, Burke and his colleagues are particularly interested in how cultivated sunflowers may affect wild populations.

“The transfer of genes from crop plants to their wild relatives via hybridization is one of the risks associated with commercializing genetically engineered crops,” said Burke. “And there is great potential for reproductive contact between cultivated and wild sunflowers because the vast majority of all cultivated sunflower fields in the United States occur in close proximity to wild sunflower populations.”

According to a study that Burke and colleagues published in the September 2002 issue of the American Journal of Botany, there was evidence of crop-wild hybridization in 10 to 33 percent of the sunflower populations they surveyed. This fact raises the broader agricultural issue of any engineered crop’s genes, or “transgenes,” escaping to wild relatives. The problem of genetically modified corn genes, for example, establishing themselves in non-modified fields has already become an agricultural, legal and ethical issue.

Close proximity should not be a problem if crop plants and their wild relatives flower at different times, but that’s not the case with sunflowers. If an engineered gene provided an advantage such as herbicide- or disease-resistance, hardier and more invasive weeds could result, said Burke.


Intro   |   A Widely Popular Crop   |   Escaping to the Wild   |   Potential Fixes   |  
Fruits of Further Study


Research Communications, Office of the VP for Research, UGA
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