Brian Roger Johnson print  
Dr Brian Johnson was until recently senior advisor on biotechnology to the British statutory nature conservation agencies and is head of the Agricultural Technologies Group at English Nature, one of the UK government’s advisors on nature conservation. He has been closely involved in the debate on potential effects of GMOs on biodiversity and other aspects of the environment. After pursuing academic research in population genetics and ecology, he has spent the last 20 years in nature conservation. He has written numerous articles in the scientific and popular press about biosafety, conservation and the impact of biotechnology on the environment. Dr Johnson sits on several advisory committees concerned with biological research, regulating the release of GMOs into the environment, and the development of more sustainable farming methods. In 2004 he chaired the panel reviewing biosafety within CGIAR. He is a member of the design and authorship team of the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development, an initiative launched by the World Bank/UNEP in 2003.
Potential environmental impacts of salt and drought tolerance traits in crop plants
This paper will explore some of the potential environmental risk factors that should be addressed before release of crops and other plants (including long-lived perennials) that have been or may in future be genetically modified to be drought resistant and salt tolerant. The analysis will focus especially on the ecological characteristics and distributions of plants found in arid and saline ecosystems in both tropical and temperate regions. The paper will also examine risks from gene flow of these traits to wild plants that may hybridise with GM crops such as cereals that are currently subject to transgenic modification for drought and salinity tolerance. There have been some hybridisations in the past that might help us better understand the ecological risks from gene flow in saline environments, but few if any cases in arid environments. Experience has shown that in saline environments, environmental risks are not just ecological but must also include consideration of the important role that plants play in geomorphological processes that take place in estuaries and other coastal ecosystems. Commonly used risk assessment procedures should be adequate for assessing environmental risks from plants with salt and drought tolerance traits, but these will only be effective and reliable if sufficient ecological data are collected. These data should not only be in relation to the ecology of GM plants themselves, but also more research is needed on the ecology of wild plants in arid and saline ecosystems.