Genetically modified crops: environmental and human health concerns
About 10,000 years ago subsistence fanners started to domesticate plants and it was only much later, after the discovery of the fundaments of genetics, those organisms were submitted to rational genetic improvement mainly by selecting of traits of interest. Breeders used appropriate gene combinations to produce new animal races, plant varieties and hybrids, as well as improved microorganisms such as yeasts. After the introduction of recombinant DNA techniques, the transfer of DNA between species belonging to different genera, families or kingdoms became possible. The release of transgenic plants has aroused debates about several aspects of the environmental and human risks that could result from the introduction of genetically modified crops. Less effort has been dedicated to evaluate the impact of transgenic plants on their associated microorganisms, some of which (e.g. nitrogen-fixing bacteria, mycorrhizal fungi and endophytic microbiota) are extremely important for the survival of the plant. Investigations have been made regarding the horizontal transfer of genetic material between transgenic plants and microorganisms and on the disturbance of useful symbiotic associations between plants and endophytic, epiphytic and rhizosphere communities. In most cases the results do no show any adverse effect of transgenic plants on autochthonous plant-associated microorganisms. Results from our laboratory show small changes caused by genetically modified endophytic bacteria on the indigenous endophytic population of the sweet orange Citrus sinensis. In tests using appropriated fungal strains preliminary results using extracts from transgenic plants indicate that these plants do not affect haploidization, mitotic crossing-over, mutation rate or chromosomal alterations. (C) 2003 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.