Leaf ontogeny interacts with Bt modification to affect innate resistance in GM aspens

E. Petter Axelsson, Joakim Hjältén, Thomas G. Whitham, Riitta Julkunen-Tiitto, Gilles Pilate, Anders Wennström

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Bioassays with a non-target slug (Deroceras spp.) and chemical analyses were conducted using leaf tissue from already existing genetically modified insect-resistant aspen trees to examine whether genetic modifications to produce Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxins could affect plant phytochemistry, which in turn might influence plant-herbivore interactions. Three major patterns emerged. First, two independent modifications for Bt resistance affected the phytochemical profiles of leaves such that both were different from the isogenic wild-type (Wt) control leaves, but also different from each other. Among the contributors to these differences are substances with a presumed involvement in resistance, such as salicortin and soluble condensed tannins. Second, bioassays with one Bt line suggest that the modification somehow affected innate resistance ("Innate" is used here in opposition to the "acquired" Bt resistance) in ways such that slugs preferred Bt over Wt leaves. Third, the preference test suggests that the innate resistance in Bt relative to Wt plants may not be uniformly expressed throughout the whole plant and that leaf ontogeny interacts with the modification to affect resistance. This was manifested through an ontogenetic determined increase in leaf consumption that was more than four times higher in Bt compared to Wt leaves. Our result are of principal importance, as these indicate that genetic modifications can affect innate resistance and thus non-target herbivores in ways that may have commercial and/or environmental consequences. The finding of a modification-ontogeny interaction effect on innate resistance may be especially important in assessments of GM plants with a long lifespan such as trees.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)161-169
Number of pages9
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2011


  • Biotechnology
  • GM trees
  • Ontogeny
  • Pleiotropic effect
  • Populus
  • Secondary substances
  • Slug

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Biochemistry


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