Transgenic corn suppresses European corn borer, saves farmers billions

Oct 07, 2010
Transgenic corn's suppression of the European corn borer has saved Midwest farmers billions of dollars in the past decade, reports a new study in Science. Credit: Photo provided by the University of Minnesota.

Transgenic corn's suppression of the European corn borer has saved Midwest farmers billions of dollars in the past decade, reports a new study in Science.

Research conducted by several Midwest universities shows that suppression of this pest has saved $3.2 billion for corn growers in Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin over the past 14 years with more than $2.4 billion of this total benefiting non-Bt corn growers. Comparable estimates for Iowa and Nebraska are $3.6 billion in total, with $1.9 billion accruing for non-Bt corn growers.

Transgenic corn is engineered to express insecticidal proteins from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). Bt corn has become widely adopted in U.S. agriculture since its commercialization in 1996. In 2009, Bt corn constituted 63 percent of the U.S. crop.

Corn borer moths can't distinguish between Bt and non-Bt corn, so females lay eggs in both types of fields. Once eggs hatch in Bt corn, young borer larvae feed and die within 24 to 48 hours.

The major benefit of planting Bt corn is reduced yield losses, and Bt acres received this benefit after the growers paid Bt corn technology fees. But as a result of areawide , non-Bt acres also experienced yield savings without the cost of Bt technology fees, and thus received more than half of the benefits from growing Bt corn in the region.

"We've assumed for some time that economic benefits were accruing, even among producers who opted not to plant Bt hybrids," said co-author of the study Mike Gray, University of Illinois Extension entomologist and professor in the Department of Crop Sciences. "However, once quantified, the magnitude of this benefit was even more impressive."

Over the past several years, entomologists and corn producers have noticed very low densities of European corn borers in Illinois. In fact, Illinois densities have reached historic lows to the point where many are questioning its pest status, Gray said.

"Since the introduction of Bt corn, initially targeted primarily at the European corn borer, many and ecologists have wondered if population suppression over a large area would eventually occur," Gray said. "As this research shows, areawide suppression has occurred and dramatically reduced the estimated $1 billion in annual losses caused previously by the European corn borer."

This information also provides incentives for growers to plant non-Bt corn in addition to Bt corn.

"Sustained economic and environmental benefits of this technology will depend on continued stewardship by producers to maintain non-Bt maize refuges to minimize the risk of evolution of Bt resistance in crop pest species," Gray said.

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5 / 5 (1) Oct 07, 2010
Not clear to me why refuge corn that doesn't kill corn borers will prevent evolution of resistant strains. Do we know the energy cost of resistance?
1 / 5 (1) Oct 07, 2010
Not clear to me why refuge corn that doesn't kill corn borers will prevent evolution of resistant strains. Do we know the energy cost of resistance?

It would seem to me that if you wanted to prevent "resistant strains" of borer, then you should engineer two different strains borer-killing corn. This way, if one doesn't kill them, the other will.
not rated yet Oct 08, 2010
Actually this thing with the refuge isnt pretty smart...the idea is that if a resistant bug happened to be then it will be better to mate with not resistant which has came from not bt-corn, and then if the mutation(which gives the resistance) is active only in homogenic state(I dont know how you say to this but gene that has to have two copies to be active-like the blond hare, blue eyes and so on)(and actually it is more likely for new mutation to be recesive) the offspring wont be resistant to bt.
not rated yet Oct 08, 2010
This is the theory, but if such resistance accur this metod wont be at great use, the most important thing is to prevent the number of trials - this means the less the insects which lays eggs on bt, the less is posibility of resistance to accur, and what they do?They give to the insect lots of chances, not resistant insects near Bt, and lots of trials....If every living corn in Europe is replased with Bt then with the bug will be over for ever, otherwise it is matter of time, and when we are talking about insects the time wont be pretty much.
not rated yet Oct 08, 2010
I thought insecticides were a bad thing to eat? Are they absolutely out of their minds? This should be stung around the perimeter and then plowed under as a barrier not a food source. No wonder we have a cancerous epidemic in the west.
not rated yet Oct 08, 2010
Before making conclusions it is better to see what it is all about, this is toxic only for insects, it is nothing like our chemistry pesticides(toxic for every living animal inc. us). It is complicated protein which is deactivated when it is cooked, and it is further desolved in the stomach, no toxisity for humans is observed.

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