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Maize hybrids derived from GM positive and negative segregant inbreds are compositionally equivalent: any observed differences are associated with conventional backcrossing practices

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In this study, we show that compositional differences in grain harvested from genetically modified (GM) maize hybrids derived from near-isogenic trait-positive and trait-negative segregant inbreds are more likely related to backcrossing practices than to the GM trait. To demonstrate this, four paired GM trait-positive (NK603: herbicide tolerance) and trait-negative near-isogenic inbred male lines were generated. These were crossed with two different females (testers) to create a series of trait-positive and trait-negative hybrid variants. The hypothesis was, that compositional variation within the hybrid variants would reflect differences associated with backcrossing practices and provide context to any observed differences between GM and non-GM hybrids. The F1 hybrids, as well as corresponding conventional comparator hybrids, were grown concurrently at four field sites across the United States during the 2013 season. Grain was harvested for compositional analysis; proximates (protein, starch, and oil), amino acids, fatty acids, minerals, tocopherols (α-, δ-, γ-), β-carotene, phytic acid, and raffinose were measured. Statistical analysis showed that within each hybrid tester set, there were very few significant (p < 0.05) differences between the paired trait-positive and trait-negative hybrids or between the conventional comparators and the trait-positive or trait-negative hybrids. Assessments of the magnitudes of differences and variance component analysis highlighted that growing location, and the tester used in hybrid formation, had a markedly greater effect on composition than did the GM trait. Significantly, for each tester set, compositional differences within the trait-positive and trait-negative hybrid variants were greater than differences between the GM and non-GM comparators. Overall, GM trait insertion is not intrinsically a meaningful contributor to compositional variation, and observed differences between GM and non-GM comparators typically reflect incidental changes associated with conventional breeding practices. These results contribute to ongoing discussions on the relevance of negative segregants as comparators in GM assessments.

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Correspondence to Tyamagondlu V. Venkatesh or George G. Harrigan.

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Venkatesh, T.V., Bell, E., Bickel, A. et al. Maize hybrids derived from GM positive and negative segregant inbreds are compositionally equivalent: any observed differences are associated with conventional backcrossing practices. Transgenic Res 25, 83–96 (2016).

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