Possible effects of (trans)gene flow from crops on the genetic diversity from landraces and wild relatives

Environ Biosafety Res. Apr-Jun 2003;2(2):89-103. doi: 10.1051/ebr:2003009.


Gene flow is a potential concern associated with the use of transgenic crops because it could affect genetic diversity of related landraces and wild relatives. This concern has taken on added importance with the looming introduction of transgenic crops in centers of crop domestication (Mexico, China) and those producing pharmaceutical compounds. For gene flow to take place among cultivars and their wild relatives, several steps have to be fulfilled, including the presence of cultivars or wild relatives within pollen or seed dispersal range, the ability to produce viable and fertile hybrids, at least partial overlap in flowering time, actual gene flow by pollen or seed, and the establishment of crop genes in the domesticated or wild recipient populations. In contrast with domestication genes, which often make crops less adapted to natural ecosystems, transgenes frequently represent gains of function, which might release wild relatives from constraints that limit their fitness. In most sexually reproducing organisms, the chromosomal region affected by selection of a single gene amounts to a small percentage of the total genome size. Because of gene flow, the level of genetic diversity present in the domesticated gene pool becomes a crucial factor affecting the genetic diversity of the wild gene pool. For some crops, such as cotton and maize, the introduction of transgenic technologies has led to a consolidation of the seed industry and a reduction in the diversity of the elite crop gene pool. Thus, diversity in improved varieties grown by farmers needs to be monitored. Several areas deserve further study, such as the actual magnitude of gene flow and its determinants in different agroecosystems, the long-term effects of gene flow on genetic diversity both across gene pools and within genomes, the expression of transgenes in new genetic backgrounds, and the effects of socio-economic factors on genetic diversity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Crops, Agricultural / economics
  • Crops, Agricultural / genetics*
  • Gene Pool
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Hybridization, Genetic*
  • Mexico
  • Plants, Genetically Modified
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Transgenes
  • United States