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Measuring gene flow from two birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) field trials using transgenes as tracer markers


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Genetic engineering is becoming a useful tool in the improvement of plants but concern has been expressed about the potential environmental risks of releasing genetically modified (GM) organisms into the environment. Attention has focused on pollen dispersal as a major issue in the risk assessment of transgenic crop plants. In this study, pollen-mediated dispersal of transgenes via cross-fertilization was examined. Plants of Lotus corniculatus L. transformed with either the Escherichia coli asparagine synthetase gene asnA or the β-glucuronidase gene uidA, were used as the pollen donor. Nontransgenic plants belonging to the species L. corniculatus L., L. tenuis Waldst. and Kit. ex Willd, and L. pedunculatus Cav., were utilized as recipients. Two experimental fields were established in two areas of central Italy. Plants carrying the uidA gene were partially sterile, therefore only the asnA gene was used as a tracer marker. No transgene flow between L. corniculatus transformants and the nontransgenic L. tenuis and L. pedunculatus plants was detected. As regards nontransgenic L. corniculatus plants, in one location flow of asnA transgene was detected up to 18 m from the 1.8 m2 donor plot. In the other location, pollen dispersal occurred up to 120 m from the 14 m2 pollinating plot.