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Keywords:

  • soil fungal communities;
  • transgenic white spruce;
  • endochitinase;
  • phylogenetic diversity;
  • soil cloning

Abstract

Chitinase genes isolated from plants, bacteria or fungi have been widely used in genetic engineering to enhance the resistance of crops and trees to fungal pathogens. However, there are concerns about the possible effect of chitinase-transformed plants on nontarget fungi. This study aimed at evaluating the impact of endochitinase-transformed white spruce on soil fungal communities. Endochitinase-expressing white spruce and untransformed controls were transplanted in soils from two natural forests and grown for 8 months in a greenhouse. Soil fungal biomass and diversity, estimated through species richness and Shannon and Rao diversity indices, were not different between transgenic and control tree rhizospheres. The fungal phylogenetic community structure was the same in soil samples from control and transgenic white spruces after 8 months. Soil type and presence of seedlings had a much more significant impact on fungal community structure than the insertion and expression of the ech42 transgene within the white spruce genome. The results suggest that the insertion and constitutive expression of the ech42 gene in white spruce did not significantly affect soil fungal biomass, diversity and community structure.