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Biotechnology Lecture

Ignacio Chapela: Wandering Mores – The Ecological Fate of Transgenic DNA

Date Tuesday, May 06, 2008, 15:00 - 17:00
Location Seminar room 1.2.03 (2nd floor), Biocenter, University of Copenhagen, Ole Maaløes vej/Tagensvej, Copenhagen N


15.00 – 15.10

Tom Børsen, External Lecturer, Center for the Philosophy of Nature and Science Studies, Faculty of Science, University of Copenhagen: Introduction

15.10 – 16.00

Ignacio Chapela, Associate Professor (Microbial Ecology), Dept. of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, University of California, Berkeley, USA. “Wandering Mores: The Ecological Fate of Transgenic DNA”.

16.00 – 16.30

General discussions.

16.30 – 17.00



Transgenesis brought about an evolutionarily unprecedented, environmentally pervasive –and most interesting - ecological intervention in the late 20th Century. Despite its importance, barely a note has yet been written about the ecology of transgenes as they operate in real life, through the diverse organisms hosting them. This critical paradox takes sharp economic and social relevance in the case of crop plants yearly growing in well over 100 million hectares around the world. Simple fundamentals of ecological knowledge, such as presence/absence, rough estimates of population dynamics or even the identity of transgenic constructs in the field seem to have defied scientific analysis for a quarter-century. It behoves the 21st Century biologist to ask why, and to change this situation.

This presentation will first describe the state-of-the-art in our knowledge about the distribution of crop plant transgenic DNA at real geographical scales. Methodological mores and debates surrounding the detection, monitoring and mapping of transgenes in real ecological and geographical scales will be stressed. In this area, the author has protagonized in a widely-publicized case, the first report of uncontrolled movement of transgenes in maize plants over a very long range, in Oaxaca, Mexico. This specific case will be discussed in detail and in light of more recent work by others. From this description, it will become evident that more than simple laboratory technique is involved in the remarkable level of ignorance pervading the field. Future opportunities for scientific engagement in this most important –an most curious—field will be discussed with the audience.