Overwintering of genetically modified sugar beet, Beta vulgaris L. subsp. vulgaris, as a source for dispersal of transgenic pollen
The potential impact of transgenic crops on community ecology will depend on the distribution and establishment of the new transgenic traits, on the sexual transfer of their new genes to the environment (Bartsch & Pohl-Orf, 1996) and on the potential ecological impact of the transgenic trait. Flowering and pollen dispersal is important for outcrossing of the genetically engineered trait. For a biennial plant, like the cultivars of Beta vulgaris L., overwintering is normally necessary to become generative and to produce pollen and seeds (Abe et al., 1997), which usually does not happen with sugar beet as a field crop harvested in autumn (Longden 1989). The starting point for the project was a transgenic sugar beet, Beta vulgaris L. subsp. vulgaris (Lange et al., 1998), with rhizomania and herbicide ( Basta®, Liberty®) resistance. Cold tolerance is one of the most important factors for survival of sugar beet in Central- and North-Europe. Among other ways, spreading of transgenic traits into weed beet (Boudry et al., 1993) or wild beet can occur if genetically engineered – biennial – plants survive the winter, flower in spring and spread their pollen. Field experiments were performed with transgenic breeding lines and their hybrids, transgenic and non-transgenic hybrids with Swiss chard and three conventional beet cultivars to evaluate winter survival rates at seven different field sites. We could show that survival of sugar beet – transgenic as well as conventional ones – in Germany and at the Dutch border is possible. Survival rates were well correlated with temperature data and were unexpectedly high. Differences between sugar beet hybrids and breeding lines could be detected but not within different breeding lines or hybrids. There were no differences detectable between transgenic and non-transgenic plants. The data are crucial for the risk assessment of the release of transgenic sugar beet and are the basis for further experiments towards outcrossing and establishment.
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