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Tandem constructs to mitigate transgene persistence: tobacco as a model


Prof. Jonathan Gressel. Fax: + 972-8-934-4181; E-mail:


Some transgenic crops can introgress genes into other varieties of the crop, to related weeds or themselves remain as ‘volunteer’ weeds, potentially enhancing the invasiveness or weediness of the resulting offspring. The presently suggested mechanisms for transgene containment allow low frequency of gene release (leakage), requiring the mitigation of continued spread. Transgenic mitigation (TM), where a desired primary gene is tandemly coupled with mitigating genes that are positive or neutral to the crop but deleterious to hybrids and their progeny, was tested as a mechanism to mitigate transgene introgression. Dwarfism, which typically increases crop yield while decreasing the ability to compete, was used as a mitigator. A construct of a dominant ahasR (acetohydroxy acid synthase) gene conferring herbicide resistance in tandem with the semidominant mitigator dwarfing Δgai (gibberellic acid-insensitive) gene was transformed into tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum). The integration and the phenotypic stability of the tandemly linked ahasR and Δgai genomic inserts in later generations were confirmed by polymerase chain reaction. The hemizygous semidwarf imazapyr-resistant TM T1 (= BC1) transgenic plants were weak competitors when cocultivated with wild type segregants under greenhouse conditions and without using the herbicide. The competition was most intense at close spacings typical of weed offspring. Most dwarf plants interspersed with wild type died at 1-cm, > 70% at 2.5-cm and 45% at 5-cm spacing, and the dwarf survivors formed no flowers. At 10-cm spacing, where few TM plants died, only those TM plants growing at the periphery of the large cultivation containers formed flowers, after the wild type plants terminated growth. The highest reproductive TM fitness relative to the wild type was 17%. The results demonstrate the suppression of crop–weed hybrids when competing with wild type weeds, or such crops as volunteer weeds, in seasons when the selector (herbicide) is not used. The linked unfitness would be continuously manifested in future generations, keeping the transgene at a low frequency.