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Unintended Effects of Genetic Manipulation
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Wheat transformed with a high-molecular-weight glutenin gene showed irregular expression of glutenin and changed its expression levels over subsequent generations.

Manipulated Organism: Spring wheat (Triticum aestivum L.), cultivar Bobwhite.

Inserted Transgenes: A novel "hybrid" high molecular-weight glutenin subunit (HMW-GS) gene for producing glutenin, created by fusing two native wheat genes. To facilitate gene expression, the resulting gene was fused to a native wheat promoter.

Goal: Increase the amount of glutenin stored in wheat kernels. Glutenin is a protein important for the elasticity of wheat dough used for baking. Researchers hope to improve the baking quality of wheat flour.

Intended Effect: Wheat plants, cultivated over four generations in greenhouse experiments, did express transgenic glutenin.

Unintended Effects:
  • The transgenic lines were detected by their resistance to the herbicide bialaphos (the gene for the herbicide was part of the inserted transgene construct). Of the 26 lines in which resistance was detected, 7 (31%) did not accumulate transgenic glutenin in their seeds, although theoretically they should have.
  • In 4 of the 15 lines (27%) that were cultivated over four generations, there was a loss or reduction in the expression levels of the transgenic glutenin.
  • The line that expressed the most transgenic glutenin also synthesized less than normal amounts of native (endogenous) glutenin, which may be due to transgene suppression by the host organism (see below).

Additional Comments: In connection with the last item mentioned under unintended effects, the authors note: "Decreases in expression of homologous endogenous genes are often seen in transgenic plants when related genes are introduced into the genome. Further experiments are in progress to test whether or not the decline in endogenous HMW-GS accumulation in this unusual line is due to some type of transgene-mediated suppression. If this is the case, it means that additional gene copies can result in either an increase or a decrease in total HMW-GS content. The latter might be desirable in wheat varieties in which reduced dough elasticity would be useful" (p. 878).

Source: Blechl, A. and O. Anderson (1996). "Expression of a Novel High-Molecular-Weight Glutenin Subunit Gene in Transgenic Wheat," Nature Biotechnology 14: 875-9.

Author Affiliations: USDA, Agricultural Research Service (ARS).

Funding: ARS.

Product Status: Not on the market as of 2008.

Copyright 2008 The Nature Institute.

This document: http://natureinstitute.org/nontarget/reports/wheat_001.php

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