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Assessment of a GM-crop impact on soil systems using the DNA barcode-based tool for nematode community analysis

Richtlijn om effecten van GM-gewassen te bepalen met DNA van bodemaaltjes

Synopsis

The RIVM (Dutch abbreviation for the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment) has developed with the Wageningen University (WUR) a new technique by which the soil quality can be determined accurately, the so-called nematode DNA barcode tool. This molecular method provides faster and more detailed information about disturbances in soil quality and the possible causes. This can be done because this novel information is combined with data on the overall processes by which crops are grown. Examples are the use of pesticides and effects on the soil systems of agricultural techniques such as ploughing and fertilizing. In this way a better understanding of the influences on soil quality of agricultural practices, such as genetically modified (GM) crops, can be achieved.

With the new method, the nematode DNA is determined with a special technique (quantitative PCR), by which both species (occurrence) as numbers (densities) can be derived in the soil. The nematode population reveals the important processes ongoing in the soil that support soil quality. Examples thereof are the fertility and the extent to which organic material is broken down. The DNA barcode tool is an addition to the traditional time-consuming technique, where the nematode population is determined using a microscopic examination.

The method was developed on behalf of the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) and the Secretary of Infrastructure and the Environment (IenM). Due to the increasing human population higher food production is needed globally, which implies more agricultural land for more crops. Not every management technique to support such a productivity increase, such as GM-crops, might be realized because they have to be safe for the environment. Hence, the fertility of the soil appears to become affected. It is therefore important to avoid possible negative effects by new forms of agriculture with a careful evaluation. Even in a broader European context, there is more emphasis on the importance of vital ecosystems belowground and on the quality of soils. One example is the 'Common Agricultural Policy' which the European Union has been promoting.
 

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