Insect Resistance to Transgenic Bt Crops: Lessons from the Laboratory and Field

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Abstract:

Transgenic crops that produce insecticidal toxins from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) grew on >62 million ha worldwide from 1996 to 2002. Despite expectations that pests would rapidly evolve resistance to such Bt crops, increases in the frequency of resistance caused by exposure to Bt crops in the field have not yet been documented. In laboratory and greenhouse tests, however, at least seven resistant laboratory strains of three pests (Plutella xylostella [L.], Pectinophora gossypiella [Saunders], and Helicoverpa armigera [Hübner]) have completed development on Bt crops. In contrast, several other laboratory strains with 70- to 10,100-fold resistance to Bt toxins in diet did not survive on Bt crops. Monitoring of field populations in regions with high adoption of Bt crops has not yet detected increases in resistance frequency. Resistance monitoring examples include Ostrinia nubilalis (Hübner) in the United States (6 yr), P. gossypiella in Arizona (5 yr), H. armigera in northern China (3 yr), and Helicoverpa zea (Boddie) in North Carolina (2 yr). Key factors delaying resistance to Bt crops are probably refuges of non-Bt host plants that enable survival of susceptible pests, low initial resistance allele frequencies, recessive inheritance of resistance to Bt crops, costs associated with resistance that reduce fitness of resistant individuals relative to susceptible individuals on non-Bt hosts (“fitness costs”), and disadvantages suffered by resistant strains on Bt hosts relative to their performance on non-Bt hosts (“incomplete resistance”). The relative importance of these factors varies among pest-Bt crop systems, and violations of key assumptions of the refuge strategy (low resistance allele frequency and recessive inheritance) may occur in some cases. The success of Bt crops exceeds expectations of many, but does not preclude resistance problems in the future.

Keywords: Bacillus thuringiensis; Bt crops; genetically modified crops; refuge; resistance

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1603/0022-0493-96.4.1031

Publication date: August 1, 2003

More about this publication?
  • Journal of Economic Entomology is published bimonthly in February, April, June, August, October, and December. The journal publishes articles on the economic significance of insects and is divided into the following sections: apiculture & social insects; arthropods in relation to plant disease; forum; insecticide resistance and resistance management; ecotoxicology; biological and microbial control; ecology and behavior; sampling and biostatistics; household and structural insects; medical entomology; molecular entomology; veterinary entomology; forest entomology; horticultural entomology; field and forage crops, and small grains; stored-product; commodity treatment and quarantine entomology; and plant resistance. In addition to research papers, Journal of Economic Entomology publishes Letters to the Editor, interpretive articles in a Forum section, Short Communications, Rapid Communications, and Book Reviews.
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