Comparing Genetic Engineering with Selective Breeding

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Stacking transgenic event DAS-Ø15Ø7-1 alters maize composition less than traditional breeding (2017)


The impact of crossing (‘stacking’) genetically modified (GM) events on maize-grain biochemical composition was compared with the impact of generating nonGM hybrids. The compositional similarity of seven GM stacks containing event DAS-Ø15Ø7-1, and their matched nonGM near-isogenic hybrids (iso-hybrids) was compared with the compositional similarity of concurrently grown nonGM hybrids and these same iso-hybrids. Scatter plots were used to visualize comparisons among hybrids and a coefficient of identity (per cent of variation explained by line of identity) was calculated to quantify the relationships within analyte profiles.
The composition of GM breeding stacks was more similar to the composition of iso-hybrids than was the composition of nonGM hybrids. NonGM breeding more strongly influenced crop composition than did transgenesis or stacking of GM events. These findings call into question the value of uniquely requiring composition studies for GM crops, especially for breeding stacks composed of GM events previously found to be compositionally normal.

Bringing New Plant Varieties to Market: Plant Breeding and Selection Practices Advance Beneficial Characteristics while Minimizing Unintended Changes (2017)


Commercial-scale plant breeding is a complex process in which new crop varieties are continuously being developed to improve yield and agronomic performance over current varieties. A wide array of naturally occurring genetic changes are sources of new characteristics available to plant breeders.
During conventional plant breeding, genetic material is exchanged that has the potential to beneficially or adversely affect plant characteristics. For this reason, commercial-scale breeders have implemented extensive plant selection practices to identify the top-performing candidates with the desired characteristics while minimizing the advancement of unintended changes. Selection practices in maize (Zea mays L.) breeding involve phenotypic assessments of thousands of candidate lines throughout hundreds of different environmental conditions over many years.
Desirable characteristics can also be introduced through genetic modification. For genetically modified (GM) crops, molecular analysis is used to select transformed plants with a single copy of an intact DNA insert and without disruption of endogenous genes. All the while, GM crops go through the same extensive phenotypic characterization as conventionally bred crops. Data from both conventional and GM maize breeding programs are presented to show the similarities between these two processes.


Evaluation of metabolomics profiles of grain from maize hybrids derived from near-isogenic GM positive and negative segregant inbreds demonstrates that observed differences cannot be attributed unequivocally to the GM trait. (2016)


OBJECTIVES: Here we test the hypothesis that metabolomics differences in grain from maize hybrids derived from a series of GM (NK603, herbicide tolerance) inbreds and corresponding negative segregants can arise from residual genetic variation associated with backcrossing and that the effect of insertion of the GM trait is negligible.
CONCLUSION: The effect of GM on metabolomics variation was determined to be negligible and supports that there is no scientific rationale for prioritizing GM as a source of variation.

A comparative analysis of insertional effects in genetically engineered plants: considerations for pre-market assessments (2014)


During genetic engineering, DNA is inserted into a plant’s genome, and such insertions are often accompanied by the insertion of additional DNA, deletions and/or rearrangements. These genetic changes are collectively known as insertional effects, and they have the potential to give rise to unintended traits in plants. In addition, there are many other genetic changes that occur in plants both spontaneously and as a result of conventional breeding practices.
Genetic changes similar to insertional effects occur in plants, namely as a result of the movement of transposable elements, the repair of double-strand breaks by non-homologous end-joining, and the intracellular transfer of organelle DNA. Based on this similarity, insertional effects should present a similar level of risk as these other genetic changes in plants, and it is within the context of these genetic changes that insertional effects must be considered.

Increased familiarity with genetic engineering techniques and advances in molecular analysis techniques have provided us with a greater understanding of the nature and impact of genetic changes in plants, and this can be used to refine pre-market assessments of genetically engineered plants and food and feeds derived from genetically engineered plants.

Do transgenesis and marker-assisted backcross breeding produce substantially equivalent plants? - A comparative study of transgenic and backcross rice carrying bacterial blight resistant gene Xa21 (2013)


Focusing on transcriptome variation and perturbation to signaling pathways, we assessed the molecular and biological aspects of substantial equivalence, a general principle for food safety endorsed by the Food and Agricultural Organization and the World Health Organization, between a transgenic crop and a plant from MAB breeding. We compared a transgenic rice line (DXT) and a MAB rice line (DXB), both of which contain the gene Xa21 providing resistance to bacterial leaf blight. By using Next-Generation sequencing data of DXT, DXB and their parental line (D62B), we compared the transcriptome variation of DXT and DXB. Remarkably, DXT had 43% fewer differentially expressed genes (DEGs) than DXB. The genes exclusively expressed in DXT and in DXB have pathogen and stress defense functions. Functional categories of DEGs in DXT were comparable to that in DXB, and seven of the eleven pathways significantly affected by transgenesis were also perturbed by MAB breeding.


These results indicated that the transgenic rice and rice from MAB breeding are substantial equivalent at the transcriptome level, and paved a way for further study of transgenic rice, e.g., understanding the chemical and nutritional properties of the DEGs identified in the current study.

Evaluation of Genetically Engineered Crops Using Transcriptomic, Proteomic, and Metabolomic Profiling Techniques (2013)

The question addressed is: may the improvement of a plant variety through the acquisition of a new desired GE trait lead to unintended effects (i.e. going beyond that of the original genetic modification) and, if so, does this have an impact on health? Possible mediators of such pleiotropic effects could be altered expression of untargeted genes or metabolic effects of a novel gene product. Current tools to assess the food safety of GE crops include extensive multisite and multiyear agronomic evaluations, compositional analyses, animal nutrition, and classical toxicology evaluations.
In the 2000s, new methodologies were developed to allow, in theory, a holistic search for alterations in GE crops at different biological levels (transcripts, proteins, metabolites). These methodologies include cDNA microarrays, microRNA fingerprinting, proteome, metabolome, and toxicological profiling. The term “omics” in relation to food and feed safety appeared for the first time in 2005 (Li et al., 2005). This review highlights the knowledge generated by recently published profiling studies regarding the effect of genetic modification itself, compared with environmental and intervariety variation, for major crops (44 studies) and for Arabidopsis (Arabidopsis thaliana) as a reference plant.

Natural variation in crop composition and the impact of transgenesis (2010) ABSTRACT

We present here an analysis evaluated from compositional data on GM corn and GM soybean varieties grown across a range of geographies and growing seasons with the aim of not only assessing the relative impact of transgene insertion on compositional variation in comparison with the effect of environmental factors but also reviewing the implications of these results on the

safety assessment process.

Specifically, our analysis includes evaluation of seven GM crop varieties from a total of nine countries and eleven growing seasons. On the basis of our data, we conclude that compositional differences between GM varieties and their conventional comparators were encompassed within the natural variability of the conventional crop and that the composition of GM and conventional crops cannot be disaggregated.

Transcriptome analysis reveals absence of unintended effects in drought-tolerant transgenic plants overexpressing the transcription factor ABF3 (2010)


Microarray analysis of control plant lines that underwent Cre-mediated excision of the ABF3 transgene revealed only two genes that were differentially expressed in more than one plant line, suggesting that the impact of Cre recombinase on the transcriptome was minimal. In the absence of drought stress, overexpression of ABF3 had no effect on the transcriptome, but following drought stress, differences were observed in the gene expression patterns of plants overexpressing ABF3 relative to control plants. Examination of the functional distribution of the differentially expressed genes revealed strong similarity indicating that unintended pathways were not activated.


The action of ABF3 is tightly controlled in Arabidopsis. In the absence of drought stress, ectopic activation of drought response pathways does not occur. In response to drought stress, overexpression of ABF3 results in a reprogramming of the drought response, which is characterized by changes in the timing or strength of expression of some drought response genes, without activating any unexpected gene networks. These results illustrate that important gene networks are highly regulated in Arabidopsis and that engineering stress tolerance may not necessarily cause extensive changes to the transcriptome.

Gene expression profiles of MON810 and comparable non-GM maize varieties cultured in the field are more similar than are those of conventional lines (2009)


Maize is a major food crop and genetically modified (GM) varieties represented 24% of the global production in 2007. Authorized GM organisms have been tested for human and environmental safety. We previously used microarrays to compare the transcriptome profiles of widely used commercial MON810 versus near-isogenic varieties and reported differential expression of a small set of sequences in leaves of in vitro cultured plants of AristisBt/Aristis and PR33P67/PR33P66 (Coll et al. 2008).
Here we further assessed the significance of these differential expression patterns in plants grown in a real context, i.e. in the field. Most sequences that were differentially expressed in plants cultured in vitro had the same expression values in MON810 and comparable varieties when grown in the field; and no sequence was found to be differentially regulated in the two variety pairs grown in the field. The differential expression patterns observed between in vitro and field culture were similar between MON810 and comparable varieties, with higher divergence between the two conventional varieties.
This further indicates that MON810 and comparable non-GM varieties are equivalent except for the introduced character.

Maize Inbreds Exhibit High Levels of Copy Number Variation (CNV) and Presence/Absence Variation (PAV) in Genome Content (2009)


Following the domestication of maize over the past ∼10,000 years, breeders have exploited the extensive genetic diversity of this species to mold its phenotype to meet human needs. The extent of structural variation, including copy number variation (CNV) and presence/absence variation (PAV), which are thought to contribute to the extraordinary phenotypic diversity and plasticity of this important crop, have not been elucidated. Whole-genome, array-based, comparative genomic hybridization (CGH) revealed a level of structural diversity between the inbred lines B73 and Mo17 that is unprecedented among higher eukaryotes.
A detailed analysis of altered segments of DNA conservatively estimates that there are several hundred CNV sequences among the two genotypes, as well as several thousand PAV sequences that are present in B73 but not Mo17. Haplotype-specific PAVs contain hundreds of single-copy, expressed genes that may contribute to heterosis and to the extraordinary phenotypic diversity of this important crop.


There is a growing appreciation for the role of genome structural variation in creating phenotypic variation within a species. Comparative genomic hybridization was used to compare the genome structures of two maize inbred lines, B73 and Mo17. The data reinforce the view that maize is a highly polymorphic species, but also show that there are often large genomic regions that have little or no variation.
We identify several hundred sequences that, while present in both B73 and Mo17, have copy number differences in the two genomes. In addition, there are several thousand sequences, including at least 180 sequences annotated as single-copy genes, that are present in one genome but entirely missing in the other genome. This genome content variation leads to differences in transcript content between inbred lines and likely contributes to phenotypic diversity and heterosis in maize.

Lack of repeatable differential expression patterns between MON810 and comparable commercial varieties of maize (2008)


By complementing more targeted approaches, profiling methods can assess possible unintended effects of transformation.
We used microarrays to compare the transcriptome profiles of widely commercialized maize MON810 varieties and their non-GM near-isogenic counterparts. The expression profiles of MON810 seedlings are more similar to those of their corresponding near-isogenic varieties than are the profiles of other lines produced by conventional breeding. However, differential expression of approximately 1.7 and approximately 0.1% of transcripts was identified in two variety pairs (AristisBt/Aristis and PR33P67/PR33P66) that had similar cryIA(b) mRNA levels, demonstrating that commercial varieties of the same event have different similarity levels to their near-isogenic counterparts without the transgene (note that these two pairs also show phenotypic differences).
In the tissues, developmental stage and varieties analyzed, we could not identify any gene differentially expressed in all variety-pairs. However, a small set of sequences were differentially expressed in various pairs. Their relation to the transgenesis was not proven, although this is likely to be modulated by the genetic background of each variety.

Microarray analyses reveal that plant mutagenesis may induce more transcriptomic changes than transgene insertion (2008)


Controversy regarding genetically modified (GM) plants and their potential impact on human health contrasts with the tacit acceptance of other plants that were also modified, but not considered as GM products (e.g., varieties raised through conventional breeding such as mutagenesis). What is beyond the phenotype of these improved plants? Should mutagenized plants be treated differently from transgenics?
We have evaluated the extent of transcriptome modification occurring during rice improvement through transgenesis versus mutation breeding. We used oligonucleotide microarrays to analyze gene expression in four different pools of four types of rice plants and respective controls: (i) a gamma-irradiated stable mutant, (ii) the M1 generation of a 100-Gy gamma-irradiated plant, (iii) a stable transgenic plant obtained for production of an anticancer antibody, and (iv) the T1 generation of a transgenic plant produced aiming for abiotic stress improvement, and all of the unmodified original genotypes as controls.
We found that the improvement of a plant variety through the acquisition of a new desired trait, using either mutagenesis or transgenesis, may cause stress and thus lead to an altered expression of untargeted genes. In all of the cases studied, the observed alteration was more extensive in mutagenized than in transgenic plants.
We propose that the safety assessment of improved plant varieties should be carried out on a case-by-case basis and not simply restricted to foods obtained through genetic engineering.

Transgenesis has less impact on the transcriptome of wheat grain than conventional breeding.(2006)


Detailed global gene expression profiles have been obtained for a series of transgenic and conventionally bred wheat lines expressing additional genes encoding HMW (high molecular weight) subunits of glutenin, a group of endosperm-specific seed storage proteins known to determine dough strength and therefore bread-making quality.
Differences in endosperm and leaf transcriptome profiles between untransformed and derived transgenic lines were consistently extremely small, when analysing plants containing either transgenes only, or also marker genes. Differences observed in gene expression in the endosperm between conventionally bred material were much larger in comparison to differences between transgenic and untransformed lines exhibiting the same complements of gluten subunits.
These results suggest that the presence of the transgenes did not significantly alter gene expression and that, at this level of investigation, transgenic plants could be considered substantially equivalent to untransformed parental lines.

A metabolomic study of substantial equivalence of field-grown genetically modified wheat (2006)


The 'substantial equivalence' of three transgenic wheats expressing additional high-molecular-weight subunit genes and the corresponding parental lines (two lines plus a null transformant) was examined using metabolite profiling of samples grown in replicate field trials on two UK sites (Rothamsted, Hertfordshire and Long Ashton, near Bristol) for 3 years.
Multivariate comparison of the proton nuclear magnetic resonance spectra of polar metabolites extracted with deuterated methanol-water showed a stronger influence of site and year than of genotype. Nevertheless, some separation between the transgenic and parental lines was observed, notably between the transgenic line B73-6-1 (which had the highest level of transgene expression) and its parental line L88-6. Comparison of the spectra showed that this separation resulted from increased levels of maltose and/or sucrose in this transgenic line, and that differences in free amino acids were also apparent. More detailed studies of the amino acid composition of material grown in 2000 were carried out using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. The most noticeable difference was that the samples grown at Rothamsted consistently contained larger amounts of acidic amino acids (glutamic, aspartic) and their amides (glutamine, asparagine). In addition, the related lines, L88-6 and B73-6-1, both contained larger amounts of proline and gamma-aminobutyric acid when grown at Long Ashton than at Rothamsted.
The results clearly demonstrate that the environment affects the metabolome and that any differences between the control and transgenic lines are generally within the same range as the differences observed between the control lines grown on different sites and in different years.

A microarray-based comparative analysis of gene expression profiles during grain development in transgenic and wild type wheat (2005)


Global, comparative gene expression analysis is potentially a very powerful tool in the safety assessment of transgenic plants since it allows for the detection of differences in gene expression patterns between a transgenic line and the mother variety.
In the present study, we compared the gene expression profile in developing seeds of wild type wheat and wheat transformed for endosperm-specific expression of an Aspergillus fumigatus phytase. High-level expression of the phytase gene was ensured by codon modification towards the prevalent codon usage of wheat genes and by using the wheat 1DX5HMW glutenin promoter for driving transgene expression. A 9K wheat unigene cDNA microarray was produced from cDNA libraries prepared mainly from developing wheat seed. The arrays were hybridised to flourescently labelled cDNA prepared from developing seeds of the transgenic wheat line and the mother variety, Bobwhite, at three developmental stages.
Comparisons and statistical analyses of the gene expression profiles of the transgenic line vs. that of the mother line revealed only slight differences at the three developmental stages. In the few cases where differential expression was indicated by the statistical analysis it was primarily genes that were strongly expressed over a shorter interval of seed development such as genes encoding storage proteins. Accordingly, we interpret these differences in gene expression levels to result from minor asynchrony in seed development between the transgenic line and the mother line. In support of this, real time PCR validation of results from selected genes at the late developmental stage could not confirm differential expression of these genes.
We conclude that the expression of the codon-modified A. fumigatus phytase gene in the wheat seed had no significant effects on the overall gene expression patterns in the developing seed.

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