, Volume 89, Issue 6, pp 655-660

Gene flow between cultivated and wild sunflowers

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With the development of transgenic crops, concern has been expressed regarding the possible escape of genetically-engineered genes via hybridization with wild relatives. This is a potential hazard for sunflowers because wild sunflowers occur as weeds in fields where cultivated sunflowers are grown and hybridization between them has been reported. In order to quantify the potential for gene escape, two experimental stands of sunflower cultivars were planted at two sites with different rainfall and altitude profiles. Populations of wild plants were planted at different distances from each cultivar stand. An allele homozygous in the cultivar (6Pgd-3-a), but absent in the wild populations, was used as a molecular marker to document the incidence and rate of gene escape from the cultivar into the wild populations of sunflowers. Three-thousand achenes were surveyed to determine the amount of gene flow from the cultivated to the wild populations. The marginal wild populations (3 m from the cultivar) showed the highest percentage (27%) of gene flow. Gene flow was found to decrease with distance; however, gene flow occurred up to distances of 1000 m from the source population. These data suggest that physical distance alone will be unlikely to prevent gene flow between cultivated and wild populations of sunflowers.

Communicated by J. Mac Key