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Insects develop resistance to engineered crops

Insects develop resistance to engineered crops when single- and double-gene altered plants are in proximity, Cornell researchers say

By Krishna Ramanujan

ITHACA, N.Y. -- Genetically modified crops containing two insecticidal proteins in a single plant efficiently kill insects. But when crops engineered with just one of those toxins grow nearby, insects may more rapidly develop resistance to all the insect-killing plants, report Cornell University researchers.

A soil bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), whose genes are inserted into crop plants, such as maize and cotton, creates these toxins that are deadly to insects but harmless to humans.

Bt crops were first commercialized in 1996, and scientists, critics and others have been concerned that widespread use of Bt crops would create conditions for insects to evolve and develop resistance to the toxins.

Until now, it has not been shown if neighboring plants producing a single Bt toxic protein might play a role in insect resistance to transgenic crops expressing two insecticidal proteins.

"Our findings suggest that concurrent use of single- and dual-gene Bt plants can put the dual-gene plants at risk if single-gene plants are deployed in the same area simultaneously," said Anthony Shelton, professor of entomology at Cornell's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and an author of the study, which was posted online June 6 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and is in the June 14 print edition of the journal. "Single-gene plants really function as a steppingstone in resistance of two-gene plants if the single gene plants contain one of the same Bt proteins as in the two-gene plant."

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