Transgene escape: what potential for crop–wild hybridization?


T. T. Armstrong, Tel: + 64-9-574-4127, Fax: + 64-9-574-4101; E-mail:


To date, regional surveys assessing the risk of transgene escape from GM crops have focused on records of spontaneous hybridization to infer the likelihood of crop transgene escape. However, reliable observations of spontaneous hybridization are lacking for most floras, particularly outside Europe. Here, we argue that evidence of interspecific reproductive compatibility derived from experimental crosses is an important component of risk assessment, and a useful first step especially where data from field observations are unavailable. We used this approach to assess the potential for transgene escape via hybridization for 123 widely grown temperate crops and their indigenous and naturalized relatives present in the New Zealand flora. We found that 66 crops (54%) are reproductively compatible with at least one other indigenous or naturalized species in the flora. Limited reproductive compatibility with wild relatives was evident for a further 12 crops (10%). Twenty-five crops (20%) were found to be reproductively isolated from all their wild relatives in New Zealand. For the remaining 20 crops (16%), insufficient information was available to determine levels of reproductive compatibility with wild relatives. Our approach may be useful in other regions where spontaneous crop–wild hybridization has yet to be well documented.