The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded a $500,000 grant to Virginia Tech and University of Tennessee, Knoxville researchers studying the transport of pollen from genetically modified hemp and switchgrass, the Augusta Free Press reports. The team will use mathematical models and drones to study how the plants’ pollen travels.
David Schmale, a professor in the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences at Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said the models are “critical to establishing appropriate isolation distances for GE crops and making informed regulatory decisions.”
Shane Ross, professor in the Kevin T. Crofton Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering in Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering, said understanding how pollen travels is important for the future of the hemp industry.
“Long-distance pollination is of concern due to the possibility of unintended cross-contamination between different hemp varieties, such as those used for fiber and for CBD (cannabidiol).” – Ross, to the Free Press
Ross said the team’s main goal is to understand exactly how far the pollen travels.
“Using sensors onboard drones, we can collect pollen and forecast its movement at different altitudes and distances from source fields,” Ross said. “Our models take input like the size of the pollen grains, the wind conditions for that day, humidity, temperature, and things like that. Then they can forecast the trajectories of the pollen grains and where they’ll get deposited.”
Schmale indicated that the researchers were initially only going to focus on switchgrass but added hemp to the project due to the rise in interest in the crop, specifically for CBD. He added that this type of research has never been conducted on hemp.
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