Hybridized cotton reverses resistance of pink bollworm to Bt cotton

in Southwest Farm Press

Researchers with the University of Arizona and China discovered a surprising strategy to reverse pink bollworm resistance to genetically engineered cotton.

Cotton growers have been able to use genetically engineered cotton to fight the pink bollworm. This has happened as scientists have been able to produce pest-killing proteins from the widespread soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt. Without adequate countermeasures, scientists have discovered that pests can quickly evolve resistance.

According Bruce Tabashnik, one of the authors of the study and a regents’ professor with the University of Arizona, these Bt proteins are considered environmentally friendly because they are not toxic to people and wildlife. They have been used in sprays by organic growers for more than 50 years, and in engineered Bt crops planted by millions of farmers worldwide on more than 1 billion acres since 1996.

Scientists from the U.S. and China discovered that by hybridizing genetically-engineered cotton with conventional cotton, it reduced the resistance of the pink bollworm. Details of the 11-year study that tested more than 66,000 pink bollworm caterpillars from China’s Yangtze River Valley are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Tabashnik says this is the first-ever case where scientists have seen substantial reversal to resistance developed by a pest.

The primary strategy for delaying resistance is providing refuges of the pests’ host plants that do not make Bt proteins, according to Tabashnik. This allows survival of insects that are susceptible to Bt proteins and reduces the chances that two resistant insects will mate and produce resistant offspring.

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