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Institute of

BD Biodiversity


Ecological risks caused by genetic modifications?

Maize harbors in its root zone (rhizosphere) complex microbial community – Are there unintentional changes due to genetic modifications?
© Thünen-Institut/BD
Maize harbors in its root zone (rhizosphere) complex microbial community – Are there unintentional changes due to genetic modifications?

Implications of cultivation of genetically modified plants and use of genetically modified microorganisms for soil microorganisms and other microbial communities in agro-ecosystems

Genetic modification methods are applied to generate crops and biotechnological products with new properties. Before such organisms reach the environment, their safety for humans, animals and the enviornment must be analyzed and confirmed.

Background and Objective

Main objective: Development and application  of methods to the environmental risk assessement of genetically modified organisms in agroecosystems

Transfer of recombinant genes to microorganisms (horizontal gene transfer); Persistence of recombinant proteins in the environment; modifications of microbial communities in soils, gut of insects, animals and plants.


Utilization of modern molecular tools, including quantitative PCR, high throughput next generation DNA sequencing (see also "soil metagenomics"). Material for analyses originates from laboratory and green house cultivated plants but also from those grown in the environment.

Our Research Questions

How long do genetically modified products persist in the enviroment, especially soil, and how mobile are they?

How important are physicochemical and biological interactions for the environmental persistence of genetically modified products?

Who do soil and gut inhabiting microbial communities respond to the presence of genetically modified organisms and their products? Is the diversity of such communities affected, and if yes, which ecological functions are connected with such a change?

Can recombinant genes from genetically modified organisms be transferred to environmental microorganisms?

Preliminary Results

None of the so far analyzed genetically modified plants showed any effects on microorganisms that would not also possibly be caused by conventionally bred plants.

Horizontal gene transfer from the analyzed geenetically modified plants to microorganisms has not been detected.


Permanent task 1.2001 - 2.2024

More Information

Project status: ongoing


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    More S, Bampidis V, Benford D, Bragard C, Halldorsson T, Hernandez-Jerez A, Bennekou Susanne H, Koutsoumanis K, Machera K, Naegeli H, Saxmose Nielsen S, Schlatter J, Schrenk D, Silano V, Turck D, Younes M, Glandorf B, Herman L, Tebbe CC, Vlak J, et al (2020) Evaluation of existing guidelines for their adequacy for the microbial characterisation and environmental risk assessment of microorganisms obtained through synthetic biology. EFSA J 18(10):e06263, DOI:10.2903/j.efsa.2020.6263

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    Krause SMB, Näther A, Ortiz Cortes V, Mullins E, Kessel GJT, Lotz LAP, Tebbe CC (2020) No tangible effects of field-grown cisgenic potatoes on soil microbial communities. Front Bioeng Biotechnol 8:603145, DOI:10.3389/fbioe.2020.603145

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