Certain bacteria isolated from soils possess properties that allow them to exert beneficial effects on plants either by enhancing crop nutrition or by reducing damages caused by pathogens or pests. Some of them, such as rhizobia, azospirilla, and agrobacteria, have been traditionally released in fields as seed inoculants and they often lead to increases in the yield of different crops while the application of others, such as pseudomonads, often fails to give the expected results. Bacteria genetically modified to be easily traceable and/or to be improved in their expression of beneficial traits have been constructed and released with plants in a number of experimental field plots. With these releases, it has been possible to monitor the modified inoculant bacteria after their introduction in field ecosystems and to assess their impact on the resident microflora. Local environmental factors appeared as playing a crucial role in the survival and persistence of bacteria once released in fields and in the expression of the beneficial traits whether improved or not. The spread of inoculant bacteria from their point of dissemination was limited. Transient shifts in favour of the released bacteria and in disfavour of some members of the bacterial and fungal populations present in the plant rhizosphere might occur with certain released bacteria. The changes observed were, however, less important than those observed under usual agricultural practices. Gene transfer from resident population to introduced bacteria was detected in one case. The transconjugants were found only transiently in the phytosphere of plants but not in soils. No differences between the survival, spread, persistence in field and ecological impacts of genetically modified bacteria and of the corresponding unmodified parent strain could be detected. © 2002 Éditions scientifiques et médicales Elsevier SAS and Société française de biochimie et biologie moléculaire. All rights reserved.
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