Soil Microbial Communities Associated With Bt and non-Bt Corn in Three Soils

J Environ Qual. May-Jun 2004;33(3):832-6. doi: 10.2134/jeq2004.0832.


The effects of expression of Cry endotoxin by Bt corn (transgenic corn engineered to express Bacillus thuringiensis toxin) on soil microbial community structure were assessed in a growth chamber experiment. Two lines of transgenic corn expressing different Cry endotoxins were compared with their respective non-transgenic isolines in three soil types with differing textures. Phospholipid fatty acid (PLFA) profiles from bulk soil and community-level physiological profiles (CLPP) from the rhizosphere community were used to assess community structure. Differences in PLFA profiles due to soil type were significant, accounting for 73% of the total variability in the dataset. Differences in bacterial and fungal CLPP profiles due to soil type were statistically significant, but probably not biologically important, accounting for 6.3 and 3.8% of the total variability, respectively. Neither expression of Cry endotoxin nor corn line had a significant effect on microbial profiles, except in the high-clay soil where both factors significantly affected bacterial CLPP profiles (accounting for 6.6 and 6.1% of the variability in that soil, respectively). Expression of Cry endotoxin also significantly reduced the presence of eukaryotic PLFA biomarker in bulk soils, although it is unclear which groups of eukaryotes were affected. We conclude that the effects of transgenic Bt corn in this short-term experiment are small, and longer-term investigations are necessary.

MeSH terms

  • Aluminum Silicates
  • Bacillus thuringiensis / genetics*
  • Bacillus thuringiensis / pathogenicity*
  • Bacteria
  • Bacterial Proteins / biosynthesis*
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / toxicity
  • Bacterial Toxins / biosynthesis*
  • Bacterial Toxins / genetics
  • Bacterial Toxins / toxicity
  • Biomarkers / analysis
  • Clay
  • Endotoxins / biosynthesis*
  • Endotoxins / genetics
  • Endotoxins / toxicity
  • Fungi
  • Hemolysin Proteins
  • Insect Control
  • Particle Size
  • Plants, Genetically Modified*
  • Population Dynamics
  • Soil
  • Soil Microbiology*
  • Zea mays / genetics*


  • Aluminum Silicates
  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Bacterial Toxins
  • Biomarkers
  • Endotoxins
  • Hemolysin Proteins
  • Soil
  • insecticidal crystal protein, Bacillus Thuringiensis
  • Clay