Pleiotropic effects of herbicide-resistance genes on crop yield: a review


Correspondence to: Henri Darmency, INRA, UMR1347, Agroécologie, 17 rue Sully, BP86510, 21065, Dijon, France. E-mail:


The rapid adoption of genetically engineered herbicide-resistant crop varieties (HRCVs)—encompassing 83% of all GM crops and nearly 8% of the worldwide arable area—is due to technical efficiency and higher returns. Other herbicide-resistant varieties obtained from genetic resources and mutagenesis have also been successfully released. Although the benefit for weed control is the main criteria for choosing HRCVs, the pleiotropic costs of genes endowing resistance have rarely been investigated in crops. Here the available data of comparisons between isogenic resistant and susceptible varieties are reviewed. Pleiotropic harmful effects on yield are reported in half of the cases, mostly with resistance mechanisms that originate from genetic resources and mutagenesis (atrazine in oilseed rape and millet, trifluralin in millet, imazamox in cotton) rather than genetic engineering (chlorsulfuron and glufosinate in some oilseed rape varieties, glyphosate in soybean). No effect was found for sethoxydim and bromoxynil resistance. Variable minor effects were found for imazamox, chlorsulfuron, glufosinate and glyphosate resistance. The importance of the breeding plan and the genetic background on the emergence of these effects is pointed out. Breeders' efforts to produce better varieties could compensate for the yield loss, which eliminates any possibility of formulating generic conclusions on pleiotropic effects that can be applied to all resistant crops. © 2013 Society of Chemical Industry