Impact of ecological factors on the initial invasion of Bt transgenes into wild populations of birdseed rape (Brassica rapa)
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- Vacher, C., Weis, A.E., Hermann, D. et al. Theor Appl Genet (2004) 109: 806. doi:10.1007/s00122-004-1696-7
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The inevitable escape of transgenic pollen from cultivated fields will lead to the emergence of transgenic crop-wild plant hybrids in natural patches of wild plants. The fate of these hybrids and that of the transgene depend on their ability to compete with their wild relatives. Here we study ecological factors that may enhance the fitness of genetically modified hybrids relative to wild plants for a Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) transgene conferring resistance to insects. Mixed stands of wild plants and first-generation hybrids were grown under different conditions of herbivore pressure and density, with Bt oilseed rape (Brassica napus) as the crop and B. rapa as the wild recipient. Biomass and fitness components were measured from plant germination to the germination of their offspring. The frequency of transgenic seedlings in the offspring generation was estimated using the green fluorescent protein marker. The biomass of F1 Bt-transgenic hybrids relative to that of wild-type plants was found to be sensitive to both plant density and herbivore pressure, but herbivore pressure appeared as the major factor enhancing their relative fitnesses. In the absence of herbivore pressure, Bt hybrids produced 6.2-fold fewer seeds than their wild neighbors, and Bt plant frequency fell from 50% to 16% within a single generation. Under high herbivore pressure, Bt hybrids produced 1.4-fold more seeds, and Bt plant frequency was 42% in the offspring generation. We conclude that high-density patches of highly damaged wild plants are the most vulnerable to Bt-transgene invasion. They should be monitored early to detect potential transgene spread.