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Open Access Research article

Genetic load and transgenic mitigating genes in transgenic Brassica rapa (field mustard) × Brassica napus (oilseed rape) hybrid populations

Christy W Rose1, Reginald J Millwood1, Hong S Moon1, Murali R Rao1, Matthew D Halfhill12, Paul L Raymer3, Suzanne I Warwick4, Hani Al-Ahmad156, Jonathan Gressel6 and C Neal Stewart1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Plant Sciences, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37966 USA

2 Department of Biology, St. Ambrose University, Davenport, IA 52803 USA

3 Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, University of Georgia, 1109 Experiment Street, Georgia Station, Griffin, GA 30223 USA

4 Agriculture and Agri-food Canada, Eastern Cereal and Oilseeds Research Centre, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0C6, Canada

5 Department of Biology & Biotechnology, An-Najah National University Nablus, Palestine

6 Department of Plant Sciences, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot 76100, Israel

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BMC Biotechnology 2009, 9:93  doi:10.1186/1472-6750-9-93

Published: 31 October 2009

Abstract

Background

One theoretical explanation for the relatively poor performance of Brassica rapa (weed) × Brassica napus (crop) transgenic hybrids suggests that hybridization imparts a negative genetic load. Consequently, in hybrids genetic load could overshadow any benefits of fitness enhancing transgenes and become the limiting factor in transgenic hybrid persistence. Two types of genetic load were analyzed in this study: random/linkage-derived genetic load, and directly incorporated genetic load using a transgenic mitigation (TM) strategy. In order to measure the effects of random genetic load, hybrid productivity (seed yield and biomass) was correlated with crop- and weed-specific AFLP genomic markers. This portion of the study was designed to answer whether or not weed × transgenic crop hybrids possessing more crop genes were less competitive than hybrids containing fewer crop genes. The effects of directly incorporated genetic load (TM) were analyzed through transgene persistence data. TM strategies are proposed to decrease transgene persistence if gene flow and subsequent transgene introgression to a wild host were to occur.

Results

In the absence of interspecific competition, transgenic weed × crop hybrids benefited from having more crop-specific alleles. There was a positive correlation between performance and number of B. napus crop-specific AFLP markers [seed yield vs. marker number (r = 0.54, P = 0.0003) and vegetative dry biomass vs. marker number (r = 0.44, P = 0.005)]. However under interspecific competition with wheat or more weed-like conditions (i.e. representing a situation where hybrid plants emerge as volunteer weeds in subsequent cropping systems), there was a positive correlation between the number of B. rapa weed-specific AFLP markers and seed yield (r = 0.70, P = 0.0001), although no such correlation was detected for vegetative biomass. When genetic load was directly incorporated into the hybrid genome, by inserting a fitness-mitigating dwarfing gene that that is beneficial for crops but deleterious for weeds (a transgene mitigation measure), there was a dramatic decrease in the number of transgenic hybrid progeny persisting in the population.

Conclusion

The effects of genetic load of crop and in some situations, weed alleles might be beneficial under certain environmental conditions. However, when genetic load was directly incorporated into transgenic events, e.g., using a TM construct, the number of transgenic hybrids and persistence in weedy genomic backgrounds was significantly decreased.