Makers of a genetically altered squash that's up for governmentapproval said their vegetable poses no risks that aren't already presentin nature.Hugh Wilson, a biologist at Texas A&M University, contended that thetransgenic squash being produced by Upjohn Co. subsidiary AsgrowSeed Co. can cross-breed with wild squashes, some of which areweeds, possibly leading to weeds that resist disease. He made hiscomments Tuesday in Knoxville, Tenn., at the annual meeting of theEcological Society of America and the American Institute of BiologicalSciences.Asgrow, of Kalamazoo, Mich., inserted two viral coat protein genesinto squash, making it resistant to watermelon mosaic virus-2 andzucchini yellow mosaic virus. David Tricoli, tissue culture group leaderfor Asgrow, told BioWorld the viruses have eliminated a lot of the fallplantings of squash, and cause discoloration, distortion and reducedyield. He said farmers can lose between 40 and 80 percent of theircrops."Virus resistance is not unique to biotechnology," Tricoli said. "Thereare conventional genes that offer resistance to the exact same viruses.They're available in squash relatives that also can cross-pollinate wildrelatives. These new genes aren't really unique to the gene pool."Asgrow petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) todelist the squash from regulatory oversight in July 1992. A recentUSDA preliminary determination was favorable to Asgrow. A finaldecision is expected this fall."We await approval of the transgenic squash because it's good for thegrower, good for the consumer and, ultimately, good for theenvironment" because of anticipated reduction in land use and the useof pesticides, Tricoli said. _ Jim Shrine081294

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