Research Projects

Logos GenomEnviron and Ampere
Laboratoire Ampere
Ecole Centrale de Lyon . France
(33) 472 18 65 14



Gene flow from transgenic plants: evaluation and biotechnology



Timothy M. Vogel
Funding Source:

European Commission's Fifth Framework Programme; Quality of Life and Management of Living Resources; Key Action  3 The "Cell Factory" (3.2.5)


2001-2004 (36 months)


Dr. Yves Dessaux

Dr. Christoph C. Tebbe
Institut für Agrarökologie
Bundesforschungsanstalt für Landwirtschaft (FAL)

Prof. Asa Frostegard
Dep. of Chemistry and Biotechnology
Agricultural University of Norway

PD Dr. Kornelia Smalla
BBA, Federal Biological Research
Centre for Agriculture and Forestry

Dr Leo van Overbeek (Prof J.D. van Elsas)
Plant Research International B.V.

Dr Daniele Daffonchio
Università degli Studi di Milano,
Dipartimento di Scienze e
Tecnologie Alimentari e Microbiologiche

Dr. Renaud Nalin


This project addresses the likelihood of gene transfer from transgenic (chloroplastic) plants to environmental micro-organisms. The objectives of this work is to understand and quantify gene transfer under optimum conditions and develop tools for reducing (or augmenting) this gene transfer.   Several systems have been developed for this project: microbial (receptor bacteria) and plant (chloroplastic transgenic plants). Therefore, a range of conditions and biological models will be examined allowing for a better overview of the probability of gene transfer. Gene transfer is expected to a function of the genetic environment of the gene, the number of copies, its persistence in the environment, and physical conditions that increase selective pressure and enhance gene transfer.


This 3-year research project intends to provide the scientific basis for quantifying the potential for gene transfer from transgenic plants to environmental bacteria and to develop technologies for inhibiting and enhancing this transfer.

Specific objectives:

  • Understand the potential for the dissemination of antibiotic resistance genes from transgenic plants.
  • Determine gene transfer probability with plant pathogenic micro-organisms within the transgenic plants.
  • Assess changes in biodiversity by examining the fate and effects of transgenic plant's DNA after plant death.
  • Quantify the capacity of indigenous (soil and rhizosphere)micro-organisms to assimilate environmental DNA whose original source was transgenic plants.
  • Develop the biotechnology for "cleaner" transgenic plants

of the work:

Certain biological models have been chosen to enhance gene transfer optimisation.  Among them, there is the use of chloroplastic constructions with high gene copy numbers as compared to nuclear transgenic plants.  Also, the use of Ralstonia, which has demonstrated increased transformation (gene exchange) rates in planta, is planned.  The use of Acinetobacter, whose high natural competence for transformation makes it an aggressive gene recipient will also be used.  This project does not only try to optimise biological models, but also proposes environmental optimisation by studying the possibility of genetransfer in the rhizosphere and in soils. In parallel with this optimisation, studies on the effect of the transgenic plant (both directly and indirectly through the release of decayed transgenes) on the neighboring ecology will be performed, specifically related the biodiversity (measuring genotypic and phenotypic variations) of the microbial ecology and the terrestrial food web.

This understanding of the possibility of gene transfer is critical for informed decision making, but insufficient in itself for improving the entire technology.  The transgenic plant technology needs the biotechnological tools for responding to important technological questions.


  • Demonstration and quantification of the uptake of transgenic plant genes by bacteria in planta.
  • Demonstration and quantification that soil and/or rhizospheric bacteria take up plant genes found in the decayed transgenic plant matter.
  • Evaluation of the microbial ecological effects of transgenic plants
  • Development of a biotechnology start-up company
Publications & Communications:

Kay E., Bertolla F. Vogel T.M Simonet P. 2002. Opportunistic colonization of Ralstonia solanacearum-infected plants by Acinetobacter sp. and its natural competence development. Microbiol.Ecol.43:291-297.
Kay E., Bertolla F., Nalin R., Vogel T. M. Simonet P. 2002. Transfer of  Antibiotic Resistance Genes from Transgenic (Transplastomic) Tobacco Plants to Bacteria. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 68: 3345-3351.

Kay, E., Chabrillat, G., Vogel, T.M., Simonet, P. 2003. Intergeneric transfer of chromosomal and conjugative plasmid genes between Ralstonia solanacearum and Acinetobacter sp. BD413.  Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions, 16:74-82.

Ceccherini, MT., Poté, J., Kay, E., Tran Van, V., Maréchal, J., Pietramellara, G., Nannipieri, P., Vogel, T.M., Simonet, P. 2003. Degradation and transformability of DNA from transgenic plants. Applied Environmental Microbiology 69:673-678.

Poté, J. Ceccherini, MT., Van Tran, V., Rosselli, W., Wildi, W., Simonet, P., Vogel, T.M. 2003 Fate and transport of antibiotic resistance genes in saturated soil columns. European Journal of Soil Biology, 39:65-72.

Robe, P., Nalin, R., Capellano, C., Vogel, T.M., Simonet, P. 2003. Extraction of DNA from soil, European Journal of Soil Biology, 39:183-190.

Workshop ‘with the abstract Rizzi A., Borin S., Sorlini C., Abruzzese A., Sacchi G., Daffonchio D.  Construction of a bioreporter Acinetobacter sp. BD413 strain for the in-situ detection of horizontal gene transfer from transplastomic plants to microorganisms” Cortona Procarioti’ (31 March-2 April 2005)

Zhang, X and Frostegård, Å. Survival and impact of transgene recipients – a model system based on lindane degradation” Microbial Ecology and Bioremediation in cold climate” in Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen, 21-24 August 2003
 Zhang, X., Simonet, P., Vogel, T. Frostegård, Å. “Transgene survival and impact depending on recipient; linA, a suitable model system.” “Structure and function of soil microbiota” in Marburg, Germany, 18-20 September 2003.
Cérémonie H., Buret ;, Auriol Simonet P., T.M. Vogel. Gene transfer with lightning competent soil bacteria. 10th International Symposium on Microbial Ecology, Cancun, Mexico (Août 2004).

Potè, J; Ceccherini, MT; Simonet, P; Vogel, TM, Degradation and Movement of Transplastomic DNA from Plant to Groundwater", EGU - 1st General Assembly, NICE, April 2004.

Vogel, T.M. 2003. Fate of transplastomic plant DNA. Ecological Society of Germany, Austria and Switzerland, Specialist group on Gene Ecology. Hannovre, Allemagne

Vogel T.M., Poté J., Ceccherini MT, Wildi W., Nannipieri P., Simonet P. Fate and transformability of transgenes from transgenic plants
BAGECO-7/ 7th Symposium on Bacterial Genetics and Ecology

Simonet, P. and Vogel, T.M. 2002. Sorption and Movement of DNA in the Subsurface, International Symposium on Genetically Modified Organisms, Vienne, sept 2002.

Vogel, T.M. and Simonet, P. 2002. Regulation of Horizontal Gene Transfers among Bacteria in the Environment. International Symposium on Genetically Modified Organisms, Vienne, sept 2002.

Vogel, T.M. 2003. Fate and movement of transgenes in soil. Congrès « The impact of genetically modified plants (GMPs) on microbial communities. Tromso Norvège

Vogel, TM. and Simonet, P. Gene transfer between bacteria and other species. EGU - 1st General Assembly, NICE, April 2004

Monier J.-M., D. Bernillon, Y. Dessaux, P. Simonet and T. M. Vogel. Frequency and identification of potential transplastomic plant DNA recipients among plant-associated bacteria. 10th International Symposium on Microbial Ecology, Cancun, Mexico (Août 2004).