The grass -- called creeping bentgrass (Agrostis stolonifera) -- is a hardy strain bred to resist the herbicide Roundup. EPA scientists monitoring the situation in Oregon say the grass could out-compete native grasses in the area, though its impacts on the environment remain to be seen.
The grass, made by Ohio-based The Scotts Company, has the ability to spread rapidly, since it is able to reproduce sexually and asexually. The grass is classified as a "sod-forming" grass, which means it may "outcompete" other species, says Tom Stohlgren, an ecologist at the U.S. Geological Survey's National Institute of Invasive Species Science. "It doesn't need to sexually reproduce -- it's like The Blob. It could potentially hit rare species or national parks."
Experts are concerned that the transgenic grass -- which travels easily because its lightweight seeds can be carried on the wind or stick to animals and vehicles -- could spread to Willamette Valley in Oregon, where the state's grass seed industry produces roughly 70 percent of the grass seeds used in the United States. Willamette Valley is about 90 kilometers from the creeping bentgrass test facility. Stohlgren says the grass would be very difficult to eliminate if it were to infect the valley.
Stohlgren is also worried that the ability of the grass to spread rapidly could pass on the ability to resist Roundup to other grass species. "It's like Darwin on steroids," he says.
"Frankengrass has escaped into the wild," says Mike Adams, a vocal critic of the irresponsible use of genetic engineering technology. "Now we're all about to observe a massive ecological experiment that could go terribly wrong," he says, "much like the introduction of rabbits into Australia. It would be shame to witness the destruction of natural grass species in national parks arising from this myopic effort to make golf courses greener."