Mixtures of genetically modified wheat lines outperform monocultures

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Abstract

Biodiversity research shows that diverse plant communities are more stable and productive than monocultures. Similarly, populations in which genotypes with different pathogen resistance are mixed may have lower pathogen levels and thus higher productivity than genetically uniform populations. We used genetically modified (GM) wheat as a model system to test this prediction, because it allowed us to use genotypes that differed only in the trait pathogen resistance but were otherwise identical. We grew three such genotypes or lines in monocultures or two-line mixtures. Phenotypic measurements were taken at the level of individual plants and of entire plots (population level). We found that resistance to mildew increased with both GM richness (0, 1, or 2 Pm3 transgenes with different resistance specificities per plot) and GM concentration (0%, 50%, or 100% of all plants in a plot with a Pm3 transgene). Plots with two transgenes had 34.6% less mildew infection and as a consequence 7.3% higher seed yield than plots with one transgene. We conclude that combining genetic modification with mixed cropping techniques could be a promising approach to increase sustainability and productivity in agricultural systems, as the fitness cost of stacking transgenes within individuals may thus be avoided.

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