Toronto Metropolitan University
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An ecological approach to measuring the evolutionary consequences of gene flow from crops to wild or weedy relatives

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-09-13, 20:39 authored by Lesley CampbellLesley Campbell, David Lee, Kruti ShuklaKruti Shukla, Thomas A. Waite, Detlef Bartsch

Premise of the study:

Agricultural practices routinely create opportunities for crops to hybridize with wild relatives, leading to crop gene introgression into wild genomes. Conservationists typically worry this introgression could lead to genetic homogenization of wild populations, over and above the central concern of transgene escape. Alternatively, viewing introgression as analogous to species invasion, we suggest that increased genetic diversity may likewise be an undesirable outcome.


Here, we compare the sensitivity of conventional population genetic metrics with species diversity indices as indicators of the impact of gene flow on genetic diversity. We illustrate this novel approach using multilocus genotype data (12 allozyme loci) from 10 wild (Beta vulgaris subsp. maritima) and eight putative crop–wild hybrid beet populations (B. vulgaris subsp. vulgaris × B. vulgaris subsp. maritima) scattered throughout Europe.


Conventional population genetic metrics mostly failed to detect shifts in genetic composition of putative hybrid populations. By contrast, species diversity indices unambiguously revealed increased genetic diversity in putative hybrid populations.


We encourage other workers to explore the utility of our more sensitive approach for risk assessment prior to the release of transgenic crops, with a view toward widespread adoption of our method in studies aimed at detecting allelic invasion.