Paperback / softback
April 13, 2005
9.00 Inches (US)
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.8 Pounds (US)
$37.00 USD, £30.50 GBP
v2.1 Reference

Dangerous Liaisons?

When Cultivated Plants Mate with Their Wild Relatives

With the advent of genetic engineering, "designer" crops might interbreed with natural populations. Could such romances lead to the evolution of "superweeds", as some have suggested? But haven't crops had sex with wild plants in the past? Has such gene swapping occurred without consequences? And if consequences have indeed occurred, what lessons can be gleaned for engineered crops?

In Dangerous Liaisons? Norman Ellstrand examines these and other questions. He begins with basic information about the natural hybridization process. He then describes what we now know about hybridization between the world's most important crops—such as wheat, rice, maize, and soybeans—and their wild relatives. Such hybridization, Ellstrand explains, is not rare, and has occasionally had a substantial impact. In some cases, the result was problematic weeds. In others, crop genes have diluted natural diversity to the point that wild populations of certain rare species were absorbed into the gene pool of the more common crop, essentially bringing the wild species to the brink of extinction.

Ellstrand concludes with a look to the future. Will engineered crops pose a greater threat than traditional crops? If so, can gene flow and hybridization be managed to control the escape of engineered genes? This book will appeal to academics, policy makers, students, and all with an interest in environmental issues.

About the Author

Norman C. Ellstrand is a professor of genetics and director of the Biotechnology Impacts Center at the University of California, Riverside.


"An objective, balanced account of the impact of crop x native species hybridization... Though this book is written in a clear, nontechnical style, it covers the scientific literature well. It is unique in bringing together current knowledge on crop breeding and evolutionary biology."

"With insight, originality, and scholarship, Ellstrand brings together classical and current knowledge about crop genetics, hybridization, and evolutionary ecology in a single, comprehensive treatment... This engaging and user-friendly book is a wonderful resource for ongoing biosafety discussions worldwide."

- Allison Snow - Information Systems for Biotechnology News Report

"Everyone interested in the effects of cropping on plant biodiversity, the evolution of weeds, and the risks of GM crops should read this book."

- Rick Roush - Nature

"Dangerous Liaisons? presents a rigorous and even-handed look at the science and technology surrounding crop gene flow. Denial worked fine for 10,000 years, but will not cut it in the era of GM, globalization and rapidly expanding human populations. Much as Rachel Carson did for pesticides four decades earlier, Ellstrand's book serves notice that society will need to come to terms with the genetic promiscuity of agriculture."

- Steven H. Strauss and Stephen P. DiFazio - Nature Biotechnology

"This book will appeal to academics, policymakers, students, and all with an interest in environmental issues."

"Excellent and easy to read."

- C.R. Bhatia - Current Science

"The first comprehensive synthesis of this diverse literature. Painstakingly researched, this book provides an objective counterpoint to the superficial and biased presentation typically offered by advocacy groups."

- Marzia Salmaso - Trends in Ecology and Evolution

"A valuable evaluation and discussion of our knowledge of gene flow in plants and the implication for transgene movement into wild crop relatives, with great relevance for transgene flow into FV's as well... the book's accessible and informal style make it a pleasure to read."

- Daniela Soleri - Bioscience

"The eye-catching title sets the style, with chapter headings including 'Long-distance Romance', 'Foreplay', and 'Caught in the Act'. Nevertheless, this is a serious book, which should appeal to lay people as academics alike, and just about anyone interested in the controversy over genetically modified crops."

"Essential reading... An excellent book."

- David A. Andow - Environmental Biosafety Reseach

"A highly topical and well written contribution to the GM debate, providing the non-expert reader with a much clearer picture of what is known, and what is not known, about the risks of gene transfer to wild plants... [from] a writer who is not only fascinated by his subject, but is determined to pass that fascination on to his readers."

"The book will be widely acclaimed and play an important part in the debate about GM crops."

"Intriguing insights into what happens when cultivated plants mingle with wild ones."

"A thorough discussion of the dangers of gene flow between cultivated plants and their wild relatives."

- Frits Adema - Blumea

"This book is highly recommended for those on either side of this important debate."


"In the stormy sea of debate over genetically modified organisms, Ellstrand's book is a safe and fascinating harbor of science-based opinion on cultivated plants in their larger gene pools. A visionary scientist and an ethical public servant, Ellstrand sets the quality standards for all who will follow."

- Gary Paul Nabhan, Director, Center for Sustainable Environments, author of Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods

"A well-written, objective account of the prevalence and roles of hybridization in plants, focusing on the relationships between crops and their wild and weedy relatives. This book is important reading for those concerned with the development of agriculture in the future, and the standards that ought to be applied when new strains of crops are developed. Norman Ellstrand has provided us with the best account of this important field."

- Peter H. Raven, Director, Missouri Botanical Garden

"Buckle up for a rollicking ride through the world of plant sex. Norman Ellstrand, scientific investigator, is on the trail of a little-noticed phenomenon, the migration of plant genes across the boundaries of farmers' fields. He provides a comprehensive and even-tempered look at an old phenomenon that has suddenly acquired new relevance in this era of genetically engineered crops. An essential guide to a fascinating and often startling topic."

- Daniel Charles, author of Lords of the Harvest: Biotech, Big Money, and the Future of Food

"This book brings science to bear on a controversial issue—the possible escape of engineered genes into wild species. Although Ellstrand's discussion is nuanced and sophisticated, his friendly and informal writing style makes it palatable. Ellstrand has produced the rare book that does not compromise the science yet remains a pleasure to read."

- Loren Rieseberg, Indiana University

"With insight, originality, and extraordinary scholarship, Norman Ellstrand brings together classical and current knowledge about crop evolution, crop breeding, and evolutionary ecology, weaving historical and ultra-contemporary themes into a single, comprehensive treatment. This book is a masterpiece that will be highly influential and widely cited."

- Allison Snow, Ohio State University
Johns Hopkins University Press
Syntheses in Ecology and Evolution
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9780801881909 : dangerous-liaisons-ellstrand
Paperback / softback
264 Pages
$37.00 USD

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