Dealing with transgene flow of crop protection traits from crops to their relatives



Genes regularly move within species, to/from crops, as well as to their con- specific progenitors, feral and weedy forms (‘vertical’ gene flow). Genes occasionally move to/from crops and their distantly related, hardly sexually interbreeding relatives, within a genus or among closely related genera (diagonal gene flow). Regulators have singled out transgene flow as an issue, yet non-transgenic herbicide resistance traits pose equal problems, which cannot be mitigated. The risks are quite different from genes flowing to natural (wild) ecosystems versus ruderal and agroecosystems. Transgenic herbicide resistance poses a major risk if introgressed into weedy relatives; disease and insect resistance less so. Technologies have been proposed to contain genes within crops (chloroplast transformation, male sterility) that imperfectly prevent gene flow by pollen to the wild. Containment does not prevent related weeds from pollinating crops. Repeated backcrossing with weeds as pollen parents results in gene establishment in the weeds. Transgenic mitigation relies on coupling crop protection traits in a tandem construct with traits that lower the fitness of the related weeds. Mitigation traits can be morphological (dwarfing, no seed shatter) or chemical (sensitivity to a chemical used later in a rotation). Tandem mitigation traits are genetically linked and will move together. Mitigation traits can also be spread by inserting them in multicopy transposons which disperse faster than the crop protection genes in related weeds. Thus, there are gene flow risks mainly to weeds from some crop protection traits; risks that can and should be dealt with. © 2014 Society of Chemical Industry