Bruce Campbell bcc at PW.USDA.GOV
Tue Oct 26 09:36:49 CDT 1999

Dear Taxa folks,

Noting the concerns on the teaching of evolution, there are parallel
concerns cropping up with regard to genetically modified organisms (GMOs),
particularly foods.  Those of you who are European members of this
discussion list are probably familiar with this issue in view that the EU
has long considered banning the importation of such food commodities.  Now,
within the US, activists have begun to sabotage plants in experimental
plots believed to be  GMOs. Unfortunately, these activists frequently end
up destroying plants which are the result of traditional breeding
techniques and miss the GMOs altogether.  In one instance an endangered
plant species may have been wiped out as a result of this carelessness.

What does this have to do with taxonomy?

In view of the fact that this issue will continue to exist long into the
future, might there be some technically agreed upon terms to define
characters and character-states of GMTs (genetically modified taxa)?  In
some ways, transgenetic organisms would harbor a  character(s) mechanically
engineered into the genome.  Expression of this inserted character would
represent an exaggerated form of homoplasy.  This may not be a trivial
matter in the future.  As more GMTs are introduced the probability
increases that sooner or later genetic recombination could result in the
inclusion of the transgene into other taxa (closely related to the original
taxon that was modified).
Even without genetic engineering this type of "homoplasious" character
expression is seen in plants grafted onto rootstocks of a different
species.  If one is constucting a character matrix including modified
(genetically engineered, grafted, etc.) taxa, how should the
character-states be defined...weighted?  The terms apomorphic,
plesiomorphic, homoplasious, etc., exist to describe types of "natural"
characters.  Any ideas on a term for the transgenetic (or graft induced)
ones? Perhaps transgenomorphic, xenomorphic...? Maybe terms have already
been introduced of which I am ignorant.

Bruce C. Campbell
Research Leader                           Office Phone: (510) 559-5846
Plant Protection Research             Laboratory Phone: (510) 559-5841
USDA-ARS                                     Secretary: (510) 559-5800
Western Regional Research Center                   Fax: (510) 559-5737
800 Buchanan Street
Albany, CA 94710-1100                            Email: bcc at

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