Archive for February 7, 2008

First documented case of pest resistance to biotech cotton

A pest insect known as bollworm is the first to evolve resistance in the field to plants modified to produce an insecticide called Bt, according to a new research report.

Bt-resistant populations of bollworm, Helicoverpa zea, were found in more than a dozen crop fields in Mississippi and Arkansas between 2003 and 2006.

“What we’re seeing is evolution in action,” said lead researcher Bruce Tabashnik. “This is the first documented case of field-evolved resistance to a Bt crop.”

Bt crops are so named because they have been genetically altered to produce Bt toxins, which kill some insects. The toxins are produced in nature by the widespread bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, hence the abbreviation Bt.

The bollworm resistance to Bt cotton was discovered when a team of University of Arizona entomologists analyzed published data from monitoring studies of six major caterpillar pests of Bt crops in Australia, China, Spain and the U.S. The data documenting bollworm resistance were first collected seven years after Bt cotton was introduced in 1996.

“Resistance is a decrease in pest susceptibility that can be measured over human experience,” said Tabashnik, professor and head of UA’s entomology department and an expert in insect resistance to insecticides. “When you use an insecticide to control a pest, some populations eventually evolves resistance.”

The researchers write in their report that Bt cotton and Bt corn have been grown on more than 162 million hectares (400 million acres) worldwide since 1996, “generating one of the largest selections for insect resistance ever known.”

Even so, the researchers found that most caterpillar pests of cotton and corn remained susceptible to Bt crops.

“The resistance occurred in one particular pest in one part of the U.S.,” Tabashnik said. “The other major pests attacking Bt crops have not evolved resistance. And even most bollworm populations have not evolved resistance.”

The field outcomes refute some experts’ worst-case scenarios that predicted pests would become resistant to Bt crops in as few as three years, he said.

“The only other case of field-evolved resistance to Bt toxins involves resistance to Bt sprays,” Tabashnik said. He added that such sprays have been used for decades, but now represent a small proportion of the Bt used against crop pests.

The bollworm is a major cotton pest in the southeastern U.S. and Texas, but not in Arizona. The major caterpillar pest of cotton in Arizona is a different species known as pink bollworm, Pectinophora gossypiella, which has remained susceptible to the Bt toxin in biotech cotton.

Tabashnik and his colleagues’ article, “Insect resistance to Bt crops: evidence versus theory,” will be published in the February issue of Nature Biotechnology. His co-authors are Aaron J. Gassmann, a former UA postdoctoral fellow now an assistant professor at Iowa State University; David W. Crowder, a UA doctoral student; and Yves Carrière, a UA professor of entomology. Tabashnik and Carrière are members of UA’s BIO5 Institute.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture funded the research.

Source: University of Arizona

Well…..we all knew it was going to happen, just not when.  I am pleasantly surprised that it took this long.

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Tornado Drill

Tomorrow is a tornado drill where students huddle in a building without outside windows.  It reminds me a lot of when I was in school practicing for a nuclear detonation, only then we had to dive under our desks.   Will huddling in a hallway protect us from a tornado?  Well, better than the other option, which would be leaning out the windows and taking pictures with the cell phones.  

We actually had a tornado exercise (not a drill) a few months ago, and everybody did go to their assigned places while monitoring the situation via cell phone.  Luckily for us, we never had to find out whether the huddling in the hall option works.  My heart goes out to those people that lost their lives in the massive tornado outbreak.

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