Assessment of the potential for gene flow from transgenic maize (Zea mays L.) to eastern gamagrass (Tripsacum dactyloides L.)

Moon Sub Lee, Eric K. Anderson, Duška Stojšin, Marc A. McPherson, Baltazar Baltazar, Michael J. Horak, Juan Manuel de la Fuente, Kunsheng Wu, James H. Crowley, A. Lane Rayburn, D. K. Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Eastern gamagrass (Tripsacum dactyloides L.) belongs to the same tribe of the Poaceae family as maize (Zea mays L.) and grows naturally in the same region where maize is commercially produced in the USA. Although no evidence exists of gene flow from maize to eastern gamagrass in nature, experimental crosses between the two species were produced using specific techniques. As part of environmental risk assessment, the possibility of transgene flow from maize to eastern gamagrass populations in nature was evaluated with the objectives: (1) to assess the seeds of eastern gamagrass populations naturally growing near commercial maize fields for the presence of a transgenic glyphosate-tolerance gene (cp4 epsps) that would indicate cross-pollination between the two species, and (2) to evaluate the possibility of interspecific hybridization between transgenic maize used as male parent and eastern gamagrass used as female parent. A total of 46,643 seeds from 54 eastern gamagrass populations collected in proximity of maize fields in Illinois, USA were planted in a field in 2014 and 2015. Emerged seedlings were treated with glyphosate herbicide and assessed for survival. An additional 48,000 seeds from the same 54 eastern gamagrass populations were tested for the presence of the cp4 epsps transgene markers using TaqMan® PCR method. The results from these trials showed that no seedlings survived the herbicide treatment and no seed indicated presence of the herbicide tolerant cp4 epsps transgene, even though these eastern gamagrass populations were exposed to glyphosate-tolerant maize pollen for years. Furthermore, no interspecific hybrid seeds were produced from 135 hand-pollination attempts involving 1529 eastern gamagrass spikelets exposed to maize pollen. Together, these results indicate that there is no evidence of gene flow from maize to eastern gamagrass in natural habitats. The outcome of this study should be taken in consideration when assessing for environmental risks regarding the consequence of gene flow from transgenic maize to its wild relatives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)501-514
Number of pages14
JournalTransgenic Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1 2017


  • Eastern gamagrass
  • Gene flow
  • Glyphosate-tolerance
  • Transgenic maize

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics
  • Agronomy and Crop Science


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