Do escaped transgenes persist in nature? The case of an herbicide resistance transgene in a weedy Brassica rapa population

Mol Ecol. 2008 Mar;17(5):1387-95. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-294X.2007.03567.x. Epub 2007 Oct 29.


The existence of transgenic hybrids resulting from transgene escape from genetically modified (GM) crops to wild or weedy relatives is well documented but the fate of the transgene over time in recipient wild species populations is still relatively unknown. This is the first report of the persistence and apparent introgression, i.e. stable incorporation of genes from one differentiated gene pool into another, of an herbicide resistance transgene from Brassica napus into the gene pool of its weedy relative, Brassica rapa, monitored under natural commercial field conditions. Hybridization between glyphosate-resistant [herbicide resistance (HR)]B. napus and B. rapa was first observed at two Québec sites, Ste Agathe and St Henri, in 2001. B. rapa populations at these two locations were monitored in 2002, 2003 and 2005 for the presence of hybrids and transgene persistence. Hybrid numbers decreased over the 3-year period, from 85 out of approximately 200 plants surveyed in 2002 to only five out of 200 plants in 2005 (St Henri site). Most hybrids had the HR trait, reduced male fertility, intermediate genome structure, and presence of both species-specific amplified fragment length polymorphism markers. Both F(1) and backcross hybrid generations were detected. One introgressed individual, i.e. with the HR trait and diploid ploidy level of B. rapa, was observed in 2005. The latter had reduced pollen viability but produced approximately 480 seeds. Forty-eight of the 50 progeny grown from this plant were diploid with high pollen viability and 22 had the transgene (1:1 segregation). These observations confirm the persistence of the HR trait over time. Persistence occurred over a 6-year period, in the absence of herbicide selection pressure (with the exception of possible exposure to glyphosate in 2002), and in spite of the fitness cost associated with hybridization.

MeSH terms

  • Brassica napus / genetics
  • Brassica rapa / genetics*
  • Brassica rapa / physiology
  • Ecosystem*
  • Herbicide Resistance / genetics*
  • Hybridization, Genetic
  • Inbreeding
  • Plants, Genetically Modified
  • Transgenes / genetics*