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2003 Could Be
New Year for GM Corn Mix
By Don Comis
January 13, 2003
A new, genetically modified (GM)
corn, if approved in time for Spring 2003 planting, should make that season the
biggest yet for GM corn. In 2001, U.S. farmers grew GM corn on about a quarter
of the land planted to corn.
The new corn, Monsanto's
YieldGard Rootworm corn, produces its own Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), a
natural bacterial insecticide, to kill corn rootworms. The corn rootworm
triggers more insecticide use than any other single pest in U.S. agriculture.
To address concerns about corn rootworms' developing resistance to the
plant-produced insecticide, Wade French, an Agricultural Research Service entomologist
at Brookings, S.D., and colleagues are working with Monsanto to develop the
concept of mixing conventional and GM corn seeds. The
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is
reviewing Monsanto's application for approval to sell the GM seed. Based on
continuing research, the EPA, ARS and Monsanto would determine whether seed
sold in a mixture may be a viable commercial alternative the company could
In a 5-year cooperative research and development agreement that was renewed
recently, the researchers have found the seed mix offered superior corn
rootworm control to that of a conventional insecticide and may slow down the
development of resistance to Bt.
Plants growing from the conventional seeds in the mix would serve as a
refuge, to ensure there are some rootworm beetles not exposed to Bt
available to mate with those that are.
This new GM corn has become more important since the corn rootworm has, in
the past few years, become the first pest ever to evolve a way of foiling crop
rotations. The rootworms either rotate the fields they lay eggs in or extend
their egg-hatching time to match crop rotations.
More information about this new approach to corn rootworm control can be
found in the January
2003 issue of Agricultural Research.
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.