Genetically modified organisms is a serious threat to biodiversity of Azerbaijan  

Mustafayeva I. Aytan , Ahmadov S. Ismat
Human Rights Institute, Baku State University, Azerbaijan
Author    Correspondence author
GMO Biosafety Research, 2015, Vol. 6, No. 2   doi: 10.5376/gmo.2015.06.0002
Received: 24 Oct., 2014    Accepted: 30 Dec., 2014    Published: 17 Jan., 2015
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Mustafayeva and Ahmadov, 2015, Genetically modified organisms, a potential threat to biodiversity of Azerbaijan, GMO Biosafety Research, Vol.6, No.2 1-6 (doi: 10.5376/gmo.2015.06.0002)


In this present article, the potential impact of genetically modified organisms (GMO) on biodiversity has been analyzed. The potential impact of GMOs on biodiversity has been a topic of interest both in general as well as specifically in the context of the Convention on Biological Diversity. The concerns about possible risks of GM products to the biodiversity are often similar from region to region, but the impacts from those risks may differ considerably, particularly between developed and developing countries such as Azerbaijan. The present review highlights scientific debates and discusses the potential effects of GM crop cultivation on the environment considering the impacts caused by cultivation practices of modern agricultural systems.

Biodiversity; Genetic engineering; Genetically modified Organisms; species; Transgenic plants; Ecosystems

Biodiversity is an indispensable natural and genetic resource for our planet, for each country and region. Existing today biodiversity has been formed over 3,5 billion years as a result of evolution. Biodiversity is the key for sustainable development of humanity. Its environmental, social, economic and aesthetic importance represent an undeniable fact. Formed over many centuries, biodiversity plays a special role in the formation of culture, self-knowledge and development of every nation. It is a peculiar force in self-formation, resistance to harmful signs of environment and regeneration. Biodiversity is diversity in structure of all living existing on the Earth biological entities, in intraspecific gene, species and ecosystem. Variety of species on our planet is the main discrete and notable element of biodiversity. Emergence of these species is result of process and happens with various speeds in different groups of specie. Biodiversity is an indicator of environmental health; its reduction determines the level of degradation of natural species. According to the latest data, global biodiversity is scored around 14 000 000 (Global biodiversity., 2000). However, identified species on our planet are said to be around 1 750 000 species. It is also known that species are constantly renewed, disappeared and created. There are such taxonomic groups in which that processes take very short time (hours, days, months), while in others it takes thousands or million years. It is currently proven, that during the different levels of evolution there were such times when some species “flourished” or completely disappeared in a mass order (Heineman and El-Kaway, 2012; Archibald and Fastovsky, 2012).

Before the creation of human, emergence of species was always superior to their destruction. However after human started conscious life, his pressure to nature began to gradually grow up. The reason for that pressure was linked with his wish to maximally benefit from nature. With the development of science, engineering and technologies, aspiration for more prosperous life increased pressure on nature. This pressure has intensified in the last hundred years. One of the saddest consequences of pressure on nature is the steady reduction of biological diversity. Nowadays, only 20 species of plants constitute 90% of food ration of people. Any loss of the one of those 20 species can create serious danger for food security in our planet. For instance, for the last 80 years, 97% of species of vegetables had been lost in USA. Out of 7000 species of apples only 900 remained, out of 2600 species of pears only 330 remained. In India, 30 years ago, there were about 30 000 species of rice, and today 75% of the rice planted territory consists only of 10 species. There are many reasons for species’ loss. Some of them are connected to the changes in the universe, Solar system and finally natural events on planet itself. Events such as space disasters (collision of Earth with space objects), volcanoes, earthquakes, global warming, reduction of ozone layer, strengthening or reduction of solar activity, etc. become the reason of destruction of species. There are such natural factors which influence, at short time, bring to destruction thousands of species. There are also those influence which causes gradual species reduction. Anthropogenic activities are the second reason of destruction of species on our planet. Starting from the end of XIX century, the scientific technological revolution which is called “the result of human activity”, became a “terrible ghost” for biodiversity. Development of industry, intensification of natural resources’ use, industrialization of farming, expansion and globalization of technologies, urbanization, widening of communication and structural changes in ecosystem started to seriously influence species’ numbers. According to the conclusion of scientists, there are already more than 100 anthropogenic factors which may directly influence on biodiversity. Despite these anthropogenic factors, starting from 80’s genetic engineering became a serious factor affecting biodiversity (Carpenter JE., 2011).
The impact of GMOs on biodiversity
“Genetic engineering” by gene manipulation provides changes in the existing species. Transfer of genes from one organism to another is a process that is mostly ongoing within a species in nature. Species formation, in nature, is process managed by natural selection. Besides interspecies gene transfer, there are also natural processes, such as mutation, that leads to transformation into new sub-species. Genetic engineering can transfer genes between unrelated species. Genetic engineering can overcome natural physiological reproductive or recombination barriers. Genetic pollution can have relatively more unexpected results than chemical one due to the fact that living materials can breed, migrate and mutate. World community, scientists, environmentalists are beware of inclusion of genetically modified alive forms and their products into nature and the potential adverse effect they can cause to the ecosystem (Garcia et al., 2005).
In 2010, the area of agriculture sowing lands constituted 1 billion hectares (Clive, 2010). 59% of world's population lived in 29 countries which are growing up GMO. Total number of the farmers cultivating GMO plants, in 2010, constituted 15,4 million. According to forecasts, in 2015, this figure will make 20 million and 40 countries of the world will become countries of GMO. In 2010, GMO seeds were sold in amount of 11,2 billion dollars. The most widespread GMOs plants included: soy – 50%, corn - 30%, cotton - 14%, rape - 5%. GMOs plants having 2 or more transgene signs were planted in 11 countries (Y.V. Chesnokov, 2011). According to prognosis of International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), in 2011-2015 the sale of GMO Amflora potatoes grade (phytophthora resistant), Bt - eggplant, golden rice, phytase rich corn, drought tolerant corn, nitrogen sensitive GM wheat is expected on world market (Clive J., 2010).
Even though impacts of GM plants on environment and health are yet not clear, the fact that they will affect biodiversity remains undeniable (Ammann K., 2005).
The cultivation of GMO plants in the Centers of Origin and Center of Genetic Diversity can be particularly dangerous. For instance, the country of origin of rice is China. Cultivation of GM rice as the result of cross dusting can become the reason of elimination of wild sorts. Gene flow from cultivated rice to wild rice species is considered infrequent, but nonetheless possible (GMO compass, Jan, 2015). The sorts which were created as the result of hybridization will oppress natural diversity on the territory and little-number populations will be completely lost. Cultivation of GMO will decrease diversity of plants, animals, fungi and microorganisms on the territory. For example, GMO rot bacteria extremely decreases population of useful fungi bacteria around it (Lotta Jäderlund, 2008). Fast-growing transgenic organisms may extrude ordinary types of natural ecosystem. If transgenic pollen of GMO plants will get to near relatives – wild plants, they may become herbicide resistant and they may change into superior plants. Results have already shown that the level of expression in the hybrid may not be sufficient to give the resistance.
In nature, each species has natural enemy; a process that limits the number of its population. Influence of GM plants’ toxins on predatory and parasitic insects can create serious changes in ecosystem, including “prosperity” of some species and complete extinction of others. For example, honeybees are very sensitive to Bt-toxins (Malone L.A. and Pham-Delègue M.H., 2001; Robyn Rose et al., 2007) . The other example, ladybugs feeding on larvae subjected to transgenic potatoes’ toxin have been reported to have altered physiological processes (Katrien Michiels et al., 2010). Resistant pests such as Colorado beetle emerged this way. In some other cases, pests just adopted to other plants – tomatoes, peppers, eggplants. One of the significant studies assessing the impact of transgenic plants to fauna and flora was carried out in England in 1999-2003. In these tests, the effects of 66 sugar beet, 68 corn and 67 mixed transgenic plants to flora and fauna were examined in the territory of cultivation. In addition to the reduction of the flora’s population in the territories of GM plants it was discovered that, in the territories of cultivation of rapeseeds and sugar beet, the weeds spread decreased by 20 %. On the contrary, in territories where corn were planted weed types increased (Sanvido et al., 2007). It is important to mention that even if we consider weeds as harmful, yet they positively sustain the population of many invertebrate animals, and this in turn plays important role as feed for the birds. In these areas, the diversity of animals also decreased. Number of insects in GMO planted areas had considerably decreased. This process can be observed clearly in the example of insects feeding on weeds. Even the number of very rare butterflies and bees’ species also considerably decreased. It is difficult to imagine our planet without these insects. Replace of genes of cultivated plants with genes of weeds resulted in reduce of weeds population (Wolf D.E. et al., 2001). In scientific practice transfer of genes from cultivated plants to wild varieties was proved and this process played important role in the evolution of weeds. From the research implemented by the scientists of Korea and China it became clear that genes from cultivated form of rice resistant to herbicides Oryza sativa L. can pass on to their wild relative (O. rufipogon Griff.) and its degree is 1,21- 2,19% (Chen L.J. et al., 2004). Long-term experiments held in France showed that genes of glifosate and gluphosinate herbicide resistant cultivated sugar beet (Beta vulgaris L.) can easily pass on to its wild variety Beta vulgaris L (Darmency H. et al., 2007). The scientists also tried to clarify what shall be the distance between GMO planted areas and fields with natural varieties so that genes do not pass on. According to their research results, pollens can pass on in a distance of several hundred meters between GM plants fields and areas having wild varieties. In many cases, it is indicated the extreme border of the distance between fields but this issue remains complex. The complexity of factors affecting pollen dispersion (wind, insects, water channels, animals and etc.) prevents the clear resolution of this issue (Darmency H. et al., 2007). Spread of genes depends not only on natural but also on anthropogenic factors. Intensive transportation occurs between countries which establish wide economic ties. During transportation transgene spread can intensify. There are such countries, in which GMOs were never planted, however GMO genes has been found in the composition of weeds. For example, Japan scientists found genes of glifosate and gluphosinate herbicide resistant rape in the wild varieties growing on wide territory of their ports. This testifies that despite Japan’s ban, transgenes can spread by means of different transportation (Saji H. et al., 2005).
The Convention on Biological Biodiversity has 3 main objectives: 1) Conservation of biological biodiversity, 2) sustainable use of components of biological biodiversity, 3) fair and equal sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources (Convention on biological diversity, June 5, (1992). There can be legal, ecological and physical ways to preserve biodiversity. The creation of national legislation in different counties and international binding laws, can better elaborate the legal aspects of biodiversity protection. Economic, trade and property aspects of biodiversity’s legal regulation is managed in laws. Legal issues of conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity is resolved in these regulation. Legal regulations to protect against the impact of GMOs on biodiversity constrained on national and international level are effective. There is no other way to preserve biodiversity than the sustainable use of its components. Use of GMOs influence components of biodiversity both on the genomic and number of species levels. How shall the world evaluate contamination of gene banks with GMOs? In 2003, scientists of California University requested the seeds of 30 types of tomatoes which they had given 7 years ago to several USA and world’s universities and colleges for planting. Genetic analysis on returned seeds showed that they changed significantly. During the research, new genes were discovered in seeds; NPT II gene was discovered in some of the returned seeds.
UC Davis officials have determined that the seeds carrying the PG trait originated from a 20-gram seed sample donated to UC Davis in 1996 by Petoseed Company, which has since been acquired by Seminis Vegetable Seeds. It is unclear when or where the seeds were mislabeled.
Seminis Vegetable Seeds were given to California University, in 1996, by Petoseed Company as a present. Until now, it is not known, when were these seeds contaminated (Koppenjan G et al., 2003). The most effective way to prevent negative influence of GMOs on biodiversity is stabile preserving of their components. There are different ways to preserve purity and stability of both wild nature and agriculture in order to safe biodiversity. This includes use of the most modern methods in cultivation, propagation, transportation and technological works. Ultimately the only way is to create gene bank of components of biodiversity and to preserve them. Nowadays most countries create centers for genetic resources and there establish gene banks of each species of flora and fauna existing in the country.
In 2013, the European Commission prepared a pack of proposals and recommendations for prevention of GMOs pollution of ecologically pure and traditional plants. The main purpose and idea of this normative document was the elaboration of non-mandatory recommendations for European Union counties. In this document, they worked out national strategies against spread of GMOs for each country. These recommendations have been elaborated first of all taking into account specific features, flora and fauna, condition of ecosystem of each region. Elaboration of such recommendations for our Republic could have impact to decrease of GMOs influence (Wolfenbarger L. L.and P. R. Phifer, 2000).
As genetically modified sorts of plants, genes and genomes from the legal point of view is considered as “invention” and “intellectual property”, the companies which produce them have the right to obtain fee for that. This leads to the situation where agriculture becomes dependent on transnational biotechnological corporations and in this way national food security/ sovereignty is brought to danger. Number of opponents to GMOs in the world is growing. One of their biggest achievements is implementation of rule on labeling of GMO products. 60 countries already label GMOs for use. This process should have been since 2003. Labeling of GMOs in South Africa became stricter. Brazil obligated “Nestle” company to label their products; labeling rules have been expanding in Turkey.
Impact of GM crops on biodiversity of Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan is a biodiversity rich country . The flora and fauna in his territory has at least three biogeographic provinces converge. A significant contributor to this diversity comes from the Caspian Sea also. In the regions of Azerbaijan we find species that are typical of Europe (e.g., bear, lynx, chamois, red deer), Central Asia (e.g., wild goat, with leopard), and Asia Minor (e.g., striped hyena, Persian gazelle). The varied terrain and climatic conditions contribute to a diversity of ecosystems and species. Approximately 4,200 species of vascular plants, 600 species of vertebrate animals, and 14,000 species of insects were identified. An estimate of 270 species of plants are endemic to Azerbaijan. A much greater percentage of both plants and animals are unique to the Caucasus region. Azerbaijan also possesses rich agricultural biodiversity that is gradually being replaced by more cosmopolitan varieties, especially after gaining independence. The Caucasus region, including Azerbaijan, harbors several wild close relatives of domestic food plants such as wild rye, wheat, barley, millet, wild pears, cherry, and more than 200 varieties of grapes.
In recent years, Azerbaijanfaces serious environmental challenges. The main environmental issues for Azerbaijan are deforestation, water and air pollution, excessive use of fertilizers, oil pollution, high rate of genetic mutation, loss of some of the most productive lands in the country due to Armenian occupation, loss of crops such as grapes, cotton and wheat; loss of pasture areas for thousands of sheep and cows forcing over pasturing in remaining areas. In addition to these problems, the GMOs are a new challenge. The problem is the uncontrolled importation of GMO products. Now, GM crops and products are imported, cultivated, and marketed freely (Ayten Mustafayeva, et al., 2013). The main problem of the transgenic products is the uncontrolled distribution and use, which is also true for Azerbaijan intensive development of agriculture industry, market policy, integration into the world trading system, the economic benefits allow a wide range of topical application of GMOs in Azerbaijan. Thus, the potential impact of GM crops on Azerbaijan’s biodiversity may be on levels of agricultural biodiversity, natural ecosystems and landscape scales (Nie C, et al., 2003). In their quest for higher earnings, farmers of Azerbaijan cultivate high-yielding, disease-and pest-resistant GM crops. Now, we can only findone species of corn, one species of watermelon, a very small number of species tomatoes and cucumber in our markets. Most vegetable seeds are imported from foreign countries whose origin is unknown.
When addressing this problem, one has to consider our country's current status (lack of the laboratory equipment for GMOs-detection, great opportunities of our country in agrarian sector, constant food security, absence of the threat of hunger, population size, etc.). Since the start of the development of food legislation in other countries in the positive direction, the scientists and society activists achieved a total prohibit of the GMO containing food products in countries like Switzerland, Austria, Poland, and Turkmenistan. There is a lack of scientific research on the effects of the use of the GMOs and therefore our scientists should pay attention to this problem. There is a number of arguments against the uncontrolled and free import of the GMOs and GMO containing products to our country. These reasons are: 1) lack of information about the GMO products; 2) lack of test facilities for detecting GMOs; 3) lack of laws regulating import of products containing GMOs.
The Rich natural ecosystems, flora and fauna and the nine climatic zones in Azerbaijan require regulation by a very specific legislation on production and distribution of the GM crops and GMO containing products. The reason also is that Azerbaijan is a signatory to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety since 2005. It has to comply with its obligations and set in place a legal and administrative system to prevents or reduces the risks of GMOs to biological diversity, taking also into account risks to human health.It is necessary to develop laws that regulate products containing GMOs. Without such legislation, the uncontrolled use of GMOs will create problems for our country and our people in the future.
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