Possible Ecological Risks of Transgenic Organism Release When Transgenes Affect Mating Success: Sexual Selection and the Trojan Gene Hypothesis
Widespread interest in producing transgenic organisms is balanced by concern over ecological hazards, such as species extinction if such organisms were to be released into nature. An ecological risk associated with the introduction of a transgenic organism is that the transgene, though rare, can spread in a natural population. An increase in transgene frequency is often assumed to be unlikely because transgenic organisms typically have some viability disadvantage. Reduced viability is assumed to be common because transgenic individuals are best viewed as macromutants that lack any history of selection that could reduce negative fitness effects. However, these arguments ignore the potential advantageous effects of transgenes on some aspect of fitness such as mating success. Here, we examine the risk to a natural population after release of a few transgenic individuals when the transgene trait simultaneously increases transgenic male mating success and lowers the viability of transgenic offspring. We obtained relevant life history data by using the small cyprinodont fish, Japanese medaka (Oryzias latipes) as a model. Our deterministic equations predict that a transgene introduced into a natural population by a small number of transgenic fish will spread as a result of enhanced mating advantage, but the reduced viability of offspring will cause eventual local extinction of both populations. Such risks should be evaluated with each new transgenic animal before release.