Increased fitness of transgenic insecticidal rapeseed under insect selection pressure



Rapeseed Brassica napus L. transgenic for a Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) transgene was developed and was shown to be insecticidal towards certain caterpillars including the diamondback moth Plutella xylostella L. and the corn earworm Helicoverpa zea Boddie. To simulate an escape of the transgenics from cultivation, a field experiment was performed in which transgenic and nontransgenic rapeseed plants were planted in natural vegetation and cultivated plots and subjected to various selection pressures in the form of herbivory from insects. Only two plants, both transgenic, survived the winter to reproduce in the natural-vegetation plots which were dominated by grasses such as crabgrass. However, in plots that were initially cultivated then allowed to naturalize, medium to high levels of defoliation decreased survivorship of nontransgenic plants relative to Bt-transgenic plants and increased differential reproduction in favour of Bt plants. Thus, where suitable habitat is readily available, there is a likelihood of enhanced ecological risk associated with the release of certain transgene/crop combinations such as insecticidal rapeseed. This is the first report of a field study demonstrating the effect of a fitness-increasing transgene in plants.