Genetically modified strains usually are generated within defined genetic backgrounds to minimize variation for the engineered characteristic in order to facilitate basic research investigations or for commercial application. However, interactions between transgenes and genetic background have been documented in both model and commercial agricultural species, indicating that allelic variation at transgene-modifying loci are not uncommon in genomes. Engineered organisms that have the potential to allow entry of transgenes into natural populations may cause changes to ecosystems via the interaction of their specific phenotypes with ecosystem components and services. A transgene introgressing through natural populations is likely to encounter a range of natural genetic variation (among individuals or sub-populations) that could result in changes in phenotype, concomitant with effects on fitness and ecosystem consequences that differ from that seen in the progenitor transgenic strain. In the present study, using a growth hormone transgenic salmon example, we have modeled selection of modifier loci (single and multiple) in the presence of a transgene and have found that accounting for genetic background can significantly affect the persistence of transgenes in populations, potentially reducing or reversing a “Trojan gene” effect. Influences from altered life history characteristics (e.g., developmental timing, age of maturation) and compensatory demographic/ecosystem controls (e.g., density dependence) also were found to have a strong influence on transgene effects. Further, with the presence of a transgene in a population, genetic backgrounds were found to shift in non-transgenic individuals as well, an effect expected to direct phenotypes away from naturally selected optima. The present model has revealed the importance of understanding effects of selection for background genetics on the evolution of phenotypes in populations harbouring transgenes
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