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Unlike toxic chemicals, genetically altered organisms have the potential to move between ecosystems and increase in number. Many organisms used in genetic engineering research are derived from common free-living and pathogenic forms. Establishment of genetically altered species in ecosystems depends on rates of introduction, probability of finding acceptable or optimal conditions, rate of export to other habitats, rate of extinction from suitable habitat, ability to compete with organisms with similar niche requirements, functional compatibility with non-competitors, relative stress conditions in the receiving system, and many other factors, In some cases, the introduction of genetically altered species will be accidental (for example, escape from a laboratory or industrial process site). In other cases, release will be part of a management plan (for example, release of organisms to degrade pollutants or produce pesticides). In both cases, it will be important to estimate the fate, survival potential, and probability of adverse ecological effects of any release into the environment.
genetic engineering, invasion, extinction, ecological effects, transport, environmental fate, aquatic toxicology
University distinguished professor, Department of Biology, and director, University Center for Environmental Studies, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA
Assistant to the director, University Center for Environmental Studies, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA