Bt Plants Safe For Beneficials

Transgenic plants don’t hurt beneficial bugs, according to new research by Cornell University entomologist.

Genetically modified (GM) plants that use Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), a common soil bacterium, to kill pests won’t harm the pests’ natural enemies, according to the study. That is welcome news for ecologists and growers in the debate over GM plants. Much of the debate surrounding the use of GM crops focuses on their effect on organisms that aren’t pests.

The research showed that GM plants expressing Bt insecticidal proteins are not toxic to a parasite that lives inside the caterpillar of the diamondback moth, a devastating worldwide vegetable pest.

"The conservation of parasites is important for enhancing natural biocontrol that will help suppress pest populations as well as reduce the potential for the pest insects to develop resistance to the Bt," explains Anthony Shelton, Cornell professor of entomology at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, NY, who conducted the study with postdoctoral associate Mao Chen. "Our studies make it clear that Bt plants are a win-win situation to control pest insects and to enhance biocontrol and biodiversity."

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