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Open Access Research article

Opportunistic out-crossing in Nicotiana attenuata (Solanaceae), a predominantly self-fertilizing native tobacco

Karen R Sime12 and Ian T Baldwin1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Molecular Ecology, Max-Planck-Institute for Chemical Ecology, Jena 07745, Germany

2 Current address: Division of Insect Biology, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720 USA

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BMC Ecology 2003, 3:6  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-3-6

Published: 16 July 2003



Although Nicotiana attenuata is entirely self-compatible, chemical and other floral traits suggest selection for the maintenance of advertisement for moth pollinators.


Experimental exclusions of pollinators from plants with emasculated flowers in natural populations in southern Utah during an outbreak of the hawkmoth Hyles lineata revealed that 24% of the seed set could be attributed to insect pollination, and eliminated wind pollination and apomixis as contributing to seed set. Hence these moths can mediate gene flow when self-pollen is unavailable. To quantify gene flow when self-pollen is available, plants were transformed with two marker genes: hygromycin-B resistance and β-glucuronidase. The utility of these genetic markers to measure gene flow between plants was examined by mixing pollen from plants homozygous for both genes with self-pollen in different ratios and hand-pollinating emasculated flowers of plants growing in a natural population. The proportion of transformed seeds was positively correlated with the amount of transformed pollen applied to stigmas. In glasshouse experiments with the hawkmoth Manduca sexta and experimental arrays of transformed and wild-type plants, pollination mediated by moths accounted for 2.5% of the seed set.


Even though moth pollination is rare and highly variable for this largely selfing plant, N. attenuata opportunistically employs a mixed-mating system.

pollination; mixed-mating system; marker genes; Manduca sexta; Hyles lineata; Sphingidae; Nicotiana attenuata; Solanaceae