Royal Society Publishing

Using empirical data to model transgene dispersal

T. R. Meagher , F. C. Belanger , P. R. Day

Abstract

One element of the current public debate about genetically modified crops is that gene flow from transgenic cultivars into surrounding weed populations will lead to more problematic weeds, particularly for traits such as herbicide resistance. Evolutionary biologists can inform this debate by providing accurate estimates of gene flow potential and subsequent ecological performance of resulting hybrids. We develop a model for gene flow incorporating exponential distance and directional effects to be applied to windpollinated species. This model is applied to previously published data on gene flow in experimental plots of Agrostis stolonifera L. (creeping bentgrass), which assessed gene flow from transgenic plants resistant to the herbicide glufosinate to surrounding non–transgenic plants. Our results show that although pollen dispersal can be limited in some sites, it may be extensive in others, depending on local conditions such as exposure to wind. Thus, hybridization under field conditions is likely to occur. Given the nature of the herbicide resistance trait, we regard this trait as unlikely to persist in the absence of herbicide, and suggest that the ecological consequences of such gene flow are likely to be minimal.