Biodiversity Science ›› 2009, Vol. 17 ›› Issue (4): 362-377.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1003.2009.09132

Special Issue: Conservation Biology: Status Quo and Challenges

• Special Issue • Previous Article     Next Article

Evolutionary theory of hybridization-introgression: its implication in en-vironmental risk assessment and research of transgene escape

Bao-Rong Lu*, Hui Xia, Xiao Yang, Xin Jin, Ping Liu, Wei Wang   

  1. Ministry of Education Key Laboratory for Biodiversity Science and Ecological Engineering, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, School of Life Science, Fudan University, Shanghai 200433
  • Received:2009-05-31 Revised:2009-07-07 Online:2009-07-20

The commercial production and extensive environmental release of genetically modified (GM) crops have aroused worldwide concerns and debates over the biosafety of these crops. Transgene escape and its potential environmental risks are among the most debated biosafety issues. Transgene(s) can move from a GM crop to its non-GM counterparts and wild relatives via pollen-mediated gene flow, potentially causing various types of environmental problems. Effective biosafety assessment and research can facilitate the safe and sustainable application of GM crops. Following the framework of risk assessment, there are two critical steps for assessing environmental risks caused by transgene escape: (1) to measure frequencies of transgene escape from a GM crop to its non-GM counterpart or wild relative species (including weedy forms) via pol-len-mediated gene flow; and (2) to determine the persist and spread of escaped transgene(s) in wild or weedy populations through introgression. The study of hybridization-introgression represents one of the most im-portant and common phenomena in plant evolutionary, the study of which also includes the two important steps: to estimate frequencies of hybridization and to know the introgression of gene(s) in question within or among populations. The evolutionary theory of hybridization-introgression has a very close relationship with research and assessment of transgene escape and its potential environmental risks. The process of hybridiza-tion-introgression usually results in speciation, endangered status, extinction, or adaptive evolution of plant species. This is because important effects such as genetic assimilation, demographic swamping, and selective sweeps during the hybridization-introgression process, can considerably affect the evolutionary process of plant populations, into which the incorporation of transgenes may complicate the evolutionary process. If transgenes in question can significantly increase the fitness of individuals, they will quickly spread in the populations through fast introgression and significantly influence population dynamics bring certain evolu-tionary consequences. Therefore, we recommend applying the evolutionary theory of hybridiza-tion-introgression to guide the research and assessment of potential environmental risks caused by transgene escape.

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