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Is Open Access

Field-Evolved Resistance to Bt Maize by Western Corn Rootworm

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      Crops engineered to produce insecticidal toxins derived from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) are planted on millions of hectares annually, reducing the use of conventional insecticides and suppressing pests. However, the evolution of resistance could cut short these benefits. A primary pest targeted by Bt maize in the United States is the western corn rootworm Diabrotica virgifera virgifera (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae).

      Methodology/Principal Findings

      We report that fields identified by farmers as having severe rootworm feeding injury to Bt maize contained populations of western corn rootworm that displayed significantly higher survival on Cry3Bb1 maize in laboratory bioassays than did western corn rootworm from fields not associated with such feeding injury. In all cases, fields experiencing severe rootworm feeding contained Cry3Bb1 maize. Interviews with farmers indicated that Cry3Bb1 maize had been grown in those fields for at least three consecutive years. There was a significant positive correlation between the number of years Cry3Bb1 maize had been grown in a field and the survival of rootworm populations on Cry3Bb1 maize in bioassays. However, there was no significant correlation among populations for survival on Cry34/35Ab1 maize and Cry3Bb1 maize, suggesting a lack of cross resistance between these Bt toxins.


      This is the first report of field-evolved resistance to a Bt toxin by the western corn rootworm and by any species of Coleoptera. Insufficient planting of refuges and non-recessive inheritance of resistance may have contributed to resistance. These results suggest that improvements in resistance management and a more integrated approach to the use of Bt crops may be necessary.

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      Most cited references 68

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        Sustainability of transgenic insecticidal cultivars: integrating pest genetics and ecology.

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        This review examines potential impacts of transgenic cultivars on insect population dynamics and evolution. Experience with classically bred, insecticidal cultivars has demonstrated that a solid understanding of both the target insect's ecology and the cultivar's performance under varied field conditions will be essential for predicting area-wide effects of transgenic cultivars on pest and natural enemy dynamics. This experience has also demonstrated the evolutionary capacity of pests for adaptive response to insecticidal traits in crops. Biochemical and genetic studies of insect adaptation to the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxins expressed by currently marketed transgenic cultivars indicate a high risk for rapid adaptation if these cultivars are misused. Theoretical and practical issues involved in implementing strategies to delay pest adaptation to insecticidal cultivars are reviewed. Emphasis is placed on examining the "high dose"/refuge strategy that has become the goal of industry and regulatory authorities.
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          Suppression of cotton bollworm in multiple crops in China in areas with Bt toxin-containing cotton.

          Transgenic cotton that has been engineered to produce insecticidal toxins from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) and so to resist the pest cotton bollworm (Helicoverpa armigera) has been widely planted in Asia. Analysis of the population dynamics of H. armigera from 1992 to 2007 in China indicated that a marked decrease in regional outbreaks of this pest in multiple crops was associated with the planting of Bt cotton. The study area included six provinces in northern China with an annual total of 3 million hectares of cotton and 22 million hectares of other crops (corn, peanuts, soybeans, and vegetables) grown by more than 10 million resource-poor farmers. Our data suggest that Bt cotton not only controls H. armigera on transgenic cotton designed to resist this pest but also may reduce its presence on other host crops and may decrease the need for insecticide sprays in general.

            Author and article information

            Department of Entomology, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, United States of America
            University of Leeds, United Kingdom
            Author notes

            Conceived and designed the experiments: AJG. Performed the experiments: JLP-M RSK MWD. Analyzed the data: AJG JLP-M. Wrote the paper: AJG JLP-M RSK.

            Role: Editor
            PLoS One
            PLoS ONE
            Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
            29 July 2011
            : 6
            : 7
            Gassmann et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
            Pages: 7
            Research Article
            Agricultural Biotechnology
            Genetically Modified Organisms
            Agricultural Production
            Environmental Impacts
            Pest Control
            Integrated Control
            Sustainable Agriculture
            Evolutionary Biology
            Evolutionary Processes
            Evolutionary Selection
            Natural Selection
            Forms of Evolution
            Population Genetics
            Natural Selection



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