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In India and elsewhere, transgenic Bt eggplant (Solanum melongena) has been developed to reduce insect herbivore damage, but published studies of the potential for pollen-mediated, crop- to- wild gene flow are scant. This information is useful for risk assessments as well as in situ conservation strategies for wild germplasm. In 2010–2014, we surveyed 23 populations of wild/weedy eggplant (Solanum insanum; known as wild brinjal), carried out hand-pollination experiments, and observed pollinators to assess the potential for crop to wild gene flow in southern India. Wild brinjal is a spiny, low-growing perennial commonly found in disturbed sites such as roadsides, wastelands, and sparsely vegetated areas near villages and agricultural fields. Fourteen of the 23 wild populations in our study occurred within 0.5 km of cultivated brinjal and at least nine flowered in synchrony with the crop. Hand crosses between wild and cultivated brinjal resulted in seed set and viable F1 progeny. Wild brinjal flowers that were bagged to exclude pollinators did not set fruit, and fruit set from manual self-pollination was low. The exserted stigmas of wild brinjal are likely to promote outcrossing. The most effective pollinators appeared to be bees (Amegilla, Xylocopa, Nomia, and Heterotrigona spp.), which also were observed foraging for pollen on crop brinjal. Our findings suggest that hybridization is possible between cultivated and wild brinjal in southern India. Thus, as part of the risk assessment process, we assume that transgenes from the crop could spread to wild brinjal populations that occur nearby.

Category: Breeding
Authors: Davidar, P., et al.
Journal/Series: American Journal of Botany
Publication Year: 2015

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