Bt sweet corn can reduce insecticide use

October 7, 2013
The corn earworm is arriving earlier and in higher numbers in the northern US where much of the processing and fresh market sweet corn is grown. Credit: Jack Dykinga/USDA ARS Image Gallery

Since 1996, corn containing a gene that allows it to create a protein that is toxic to certain insects, yet safe for human consumption, has been grown in the United States. However, most of this "Bt corn" has been used for animal feed or processed into corn meal, starch, or other products. Although varieties of sweet corn (corn on the cob) have existed since the late 1990s, relatively few acres have been planted.

Due to pressure from activist groups, some grocery stores have refused to carry Bt . However, a new study published in the Journal of Economic Entomology suggests that Bt sweet corn is better for the environment because it requires fewer pesticide applications than conventional corn.

"Our data suggest that using Bt sweet corn will dramatically reduce the use of traditional insecticides," the authors wrote. "Based on the performance of Bt field corn, growers should realize increased profits and there will be less risk to nontarget organisms, including natural enemies that help suppress pest densities."

The study, "Multi-State Trials of Bt Sweet Corn Varieties for Control of the Corn Earworm (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae)," analyzed the performance of Bt sweet corn, comparing its rate of infestation and marketability to genetically identical varieties that lacked Bt proteins. In 2010 and 2011, sweet corn trials were conducted in New York, Minnesota, Maryland, Ohio and Georgia, locations that differ in climate, management practices and pest pressure. The authors found that for pest management of the , Bt sweet corn consistently performed better than its non-Bt counterparts, even those that were sprayed with conventional insecticides.

"Across multiple states and multiple years, Bt sweet corn performed better and required fewer sprays to meet market standards," said Cornell entomology professor Anthony Shelton. "One of the most spectacular examples occurred in New York plots in 2010: the Bt sweet corn had 99 to 100 percent marketable ears without any sprays and, even with eight conventional insecticide sprays, the non-Bt corn had only 18 percent marketable ears. This wasn't much better than the 6 percent marketable ears produced in the plots that received no sprays at all."

The authors predict that growers could realize increased profits with Bt sweet corn because of lower inputs and higher marketability, while simultaneously conserving populations of beneficial insects that keep damaging pests at bay.

"The use of Bt vegetables could significantly reduce the use of conventional insecticides and, in turn, reduce occupational and environmental risks that arise from intensive insecticide use," Shelton said.

Explore further: Transgenic corn suppresses European corn borer, saves farmers billions

Related Stories

New bacteria toxins against resistant insect pests

October 19, 2011

Toxins from Bacillus thuringiensis bacteria (Bt toxins) are used in organic and conventional farming to manage pest insects. Sprayed as pesticides or produced in genetically modified plants, Bt toxins, used in pest control ...

Benefits of Bt corn go beyond rootworm resistance

February 6, 2013

Engineered to produce the bacterial toxin, Bt, "Bt corn" resists attack by corn rootworm, a pest that feeds on roots and can cause annual losses of up to $1 billion. But besides merely protecting against these losses, the ...

Recommended for you

A 100-million-year partnership on the brink of extinction

May 24, 2016

A relationship that has lasted for 100 million years is at serious risk of ending, due to the effects of environmental and climate change. A species of spiny crayfish native to Australia and the tiny flatworms that depend ...

Silencing cholera's social media

May 24, 2016

Bacteria use a form of "social media" communication called quorum sensing to monitor how many of their fellow species are in the neighborhood, allowing them to detect changes in density and respond with changes in collective ...

Evolution influenced by temporary microbes

May 24, 2016

Life on Earth often depends on symbiotic relationships between microbes and other forms of life. A new theory suggests that researchers should consider how symbiotic microbes can influence the evolution of life on Earth, ...

Rare evolutionary event detected in the lab

May 23, 2016

It took nearly a half trillion tries before researchers at The University of Texas at Austin witnessed a rare event and perhaps solved an evolutionary puzzle about how introns, non-coding sequences of DNA located within genes, ...

In changing oceans, cephalopods are booming

May 23, 2016

Humans have changed the world's oceans in ways that have been devastating to many marine species. But, according to new evidence, it appears that the change has so far been good for cephalopods, the group including octopuses, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.