Background: Transgenic trees currently are being produced by Agrobacterium-mediated transformation and biolistics. The future use of transformed trees on a commercial basis depends upon thorough evaluation of the potential environmental and public health risk of the modified plants, transgene stability over a prolonged period of time and the effect of the gene on tree and fruit characteristics. We studied the stability of expression and the effect on resistance to the fire blight disease of the lytic protein gene, attacin E, in the apple cultivar 'Galaxy' grown in the field for 12 years.
Results: Using Southern and western blot analysis, we compared transgene copy number and observed stability of expression of this gene in the leaves and fruit in several transformed lines during a 12 year period. No silenced transgenic plant was detected. Also the expression of this gene resulted in an increase in resistance to fire blight throughout 12 years of orchard trial and did not affect fruit shape, size, acidity, firmness, weight or sugar level, tree morphology, leaf shape or flower morphology or color compared to the control.
Conclusion: Overall, these results suggest that transgene expression in perennial species, such as fruit trees, remains stable in time and space, over extended periods and in different organs. This report shows that it is possible to improve a desirable trait in apple, such as the resistance to a pathogen, through genetic engineering, without adverse alteration of fruit characteristics and tree shape.