GMO corn falls prey to bugs it was supposed to thwart

Greenpeace activists fly a kite displaying a giant corn cob on an acre in Seelow, eastern Germany
Greenpeace activists fly a kite displaying a giant corn cob on an acre in Seelow, eastern Germany, to protest against the cultivation of genetically modified maize. A voracious pest which has long plagued corn farmers is devouring a widely-used variety that was genetically modified to thwart the rootworms, raising fears of a new superbug.

A voracious pest which has long plagued corn farmers is devouring a widely-used variety that was genetically modified to thwart the rootworms, raising fears of a new superbug.

So far, there is no evidence that a significant number of rootworms have developed a resistance to the corn's protective .

However, experts warn that may be forced to resume the heavy use of pesticides if resistant bugs become widespread.

They also caution that farmers may be using genetically modified crops in ways that hasten the development of resistant bugs.

"The western rootworm is one of the most significant of corn in the United States and has a potential to become a very significant insect in Europe," said Michael Gray, a crop scientist at the University of Illinois.

Farmers used to be able to manage the pests by rotating which crops they planted in their fields.

But rootworms started to lay their eggs on soybeans -- the most common substitute -- which meant farmers had to use pesticides to get rid of them. The hardy and adaptive bugs have also developed resistance to some pesticides, Gray said Monday.

Monsanto released the first seeds that were genetically-modified to protect themselves from rootworms in 2003. US farmers used this type of seed for 45% of the US crop in 2009.

Evidence of the first resistant rootworms was found in four Iowa fields that suffered extensive damage from the pests in 2009.

Gray is currently investigating whether rootworms which devoured genetically modified corn in Illinois this year have also developed a resistance.

Laboratory testing published last month confirmed that the bugs collected from the Iowa fields were able to pass a resistance to the crop's toxins on to their offspring.

"These results suggest that improvements in resistance management and a more integrated approach to the use of may be necessary," wrote lead researcher Aaron Gassmann of Iowa State University.

The fields where the resistant rootworms were found had been planted with the seeds for at least three consecutive years.

That could have helped the bugs develop a resistance, Gassmann wrote.

Another contributor could be the insufficient use of "refuges," he concluded.

Farmers are supposed to plant 20 percent of their fields with corn that doesn't have the genetic modification so that if resistant develop they will end up breeding with non-resistant rootworms drawn to the unprotected plants and lessen the chance of passing resistance on to the next generation.

Monsanto is already working to make it easier for farmers to comply with these government-mandated "refuges" by selling bags that contain a mix of unprotected and protected seeds.

It also has several other products already on the market which could work as a substitute if significant develops and has several new products in the pipeline, said spokesman Lee Quarles.

But while Monsanto is taking the study results "seriously" there is no reason for farmers to stop using the current seeds, he said.

"Today's products work," Quarles told AFP. "They continue to provide tremendous performance to farmers and we're seeing that performance on greater than 99% of all acres planted."

Explore further

Miscanthus, a biofuels crop, can host western corn rootworm

(c) 2011 AFP

Citation: GMO corn falls prey to bugs it was supposed to thwart (2011, August 30) retrieved 19 June 2019 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments

Aug 30, 2011
During this time the polens of GMO plants wiped bees, bublebees and bats from life environment and they alergized lotta people. Now it helped to evolve new generation of pests.

The history of DDT just repeats again...

Aug 30, 2011
From ethanol production to GMO crops, it is insane to play with your food supply.

But we will because money trumps common sense.

Aug 30, 2011
There is no evidence that Pollen from GM plants affects bees in any way.

Since corn didn't produce the BT toxin in the first place, having the rootworms develop resistance to BT toxin doesn't make matters worse than before GMO crops were available.
These aren't some kind of unkillable superbugs, they are simply resistant to this particular toxin introduced into GM corn.
If the toxin hadn't been added to the corn, the rootworms would have been devastating the corn crops.
The same goes for DDT, if mosquitoes become resistant to DDT, then matters are simply back to the way they were before DDT was invented.
Resistance to DDT doesn't make them some kind of superbug.
Also, even the mosquitoes resistant to DDT are repelled by it.
Also don't forget DDT wiped out malaria in many countries including the US.

Aug 30, 2011
This refugee areas should not be used, the spots with not GM corn, it is stupid it will only keep the bugs alive and help them develop resistance to the neighbor GM too.

Aug 30, 2011
Who cares if GMOs haven't been proven safe, its only our food supply they are experimenting with and if you hadn't noticed, there is no shortage of humans so whats the big deal if they accidently kill off a few billion of them? Damned hippies shouldn't worry so much! :-P I'm sure the bees will continue to thrive in unspoiled areas and spread once they evolve or the environment becomes safe to do so again.

Aug 30, 2011
There is no evidence that Pollen from GM plants affects bees in any way.

this formulation is incorrect. there is a statistical significance linking BT crops to bee death but no proof so far as you can read here for example: considering the impact on our ecosystem if this would in fact be true, there is just no way to justify such experiment without disproofing such connections.
so without any independent study confirming monsatos claims of absolut safety any further experimention on our ecosystem should be stopped immediately imho.

Anyone believing claims from Monsanto about absolute safety of GMO crops should examine similar claims from BP about the Deepwater Horizon. IMHO, only fools believe such claims.

Aug 30, 2011
That large angry corn kite is ridiculous.

That being said, I want one.

Aug 30, 2011
Well its good to see a healthy hatred of monsanto around here, that company is pure evil. They sell seeds that are patented then they sue anyone who accidentally get pollinated by their neighbors monsanto seed stock.

Monsanto's legal department is probably a much worse version of the legion of doom. In india they force people to buy their seeds then (even though monsanto touts they are fail proof) the crop fails and the poor indian farmers see no way out but suicide and they drink the patented pesticide to kill themselves.

Monsanto is directly responsible for thousands of deaths world wide and who knows how many more due to starvation because their GMO crops don't perform like they said they would.

Someone needs to send these fools to live on the moon where they wont harm the rest of us who are honest, hard working people not slimy ass little devils who profit from other peoples tragedy.

Aug 30, 2011
The age-old struggle between produce and pest is just a manifestation of the older struggle between offense and defense. No defense is flawless, and no offense is perfect.
When living things are involved, there *will* be adaptations that shift the balance of power - one way or the other.

Aug 30, 2011
A worm's got to eat.

Sep 03, 2011
The more I read about genetic research the more I feel that we should proceed with caution-Monsanto and other corporations have, in my opinion put the welfare of Homo sap at risk in their quest for a quick profit. First with chemicals, then antibiotics, now genetics has become the tools that allow fools to walk where angles fear to tread Good Article...Gopher

Sep 05, 2011
Percy Schmeiser ex Canadian seed breeder and farmer = thanks to Monsanto

Nasty Business:

Percy Schmeiser Part 1

Percy Schmeiser Part 2

Percy Schmeiser Part 3

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