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Natural variation explains most transcriptomic changes among maize plants of MON810 and comparable non-GM varieties subjected to two N-fertilization farming practices

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The introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMO) in many countries follows strict regulations to ensure that only safety-tested products are marketed. Over the last few years, targeted approaches have been complemented by profiling methods to assess possible unintended effects of transformation. Here we used a commercial (Affymertix) microarray platform (i.e. allowing assessing the expression of ~1/3 of the genes of maize) to evaluate transcriptional differences between commercial MON810 GM maize and non-transgenic crops in real agricultural conditions, in a region where about 70% of the maize grown was MON810. To consider natural variation in gene expression in relation to biotech plants we took two common MON810/non-GM variety pairs as examples, and two farming practices (conventional and low-nitrogen fertilization). MON810 and comparable non-GM varieties grown in the field have very low numbers of sequences with differential expression, and their identity differs among varieties. Furthermore, we show that the differences between a given MON810 variety and the non-GM counterpart do not appear to depend to any major extent on the assayed cultural conditions, even though these differences may slightly vary between the conditions. In our study, natural variation explained most of the variability in gene expression among the samples. Up to 37.4% was dependent upon the variety (obtained by conventional breeding) and 31.9% a result of the fertilization treatment. In contrast, the MON810 GM character had a very minor effect (9.7%) on gene expression in the analyzed varieties and conditions, even though similar cryIA(b) expression levels were detected in the two MON810 varieties and nitrogen treatments. This indicates that transcriptional differences of conventionally-bred varieties and under different environmental conditions should be taken into account in safety assessment studies of GM plants.

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Complementary DNA


Certified reference material




European Bioinformatics Institute


European Union


Genetically Modified


Genetically Modified Organism


Glutamine Synthase 2


International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications


Messenger RNA




Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development


Principal Component Analysis


Reverse transcription—real-time polymerase chain reaction


Robust Multichip Average


Ribosomal RNA


Self-organizing Map


Vegetative six-leaf stage


Vegetative eight-leaf stage


Vegetative Tasseling


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We thank J. M. García-Cantalejo (Parque Científico de Madrid) for technical assistance; J. Serra (E. E. A. Mas Badia), E. Melé and M. Palaudelmàs (CRAG), and Ales Tichopad (Prague) for valuable suggestions; and Prof. P. Puigdomènech (CRAG) for critical reading of the manuscript. This work was financially supported by the Spanish MEC project with ref. AGL2007-65903/AGR. AC received a studentship from the Generalitat de Catalunya (2005FI 00144).

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Correspondence to Maria Pla.

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Coll, A., Nadal, A., Collado, R. et al. Natural variation explains most transcriptomic changes among maize plants of MON810 and comparable non-GM varieties subjected to two N-fertilization farming practices. Plant Mol Biol 73, 349–362 (2010).

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