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. 2011;6(7):e22629.
doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0022629. Epub 2011 Jul 29.

Field-evolved Resistance to Bt Maize by Western Corn Rootworm

Free PMC article

Field-evolved Resistance to Bt Maize by Western Corn Rootworm

Aaron J Gassmann et al. PLoS One. .
Free PMC article


Background: Crops engineered to produce insecticidal toxins derived from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) are planted on millions of hectares annually, reducing the use of conventional insecticides and suppressing pests. However, the evolution of resistance could cut short these benefits. A primary pest targeted by Bt maize in the United States is the western corn rootworm Diabrotica virgifera virgifera (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae).

Methodology/principal findings: We report that fields identified by farmers as having severe rootworm feeding injury to Bt maize contained populations of western corn rootworm that displayed significantly higher survival on Cry3Bb1 maize in laboratory bioassays than did western corn rootworm from fields not associated with such feeding injury. In all cases, fields experiencing severe rootworm feeding contained Cry3Bb1 maize. Interviews with farmers indicated that Cry3Bb1 maize had been grown in those fields for at least three consecutive years. There was a significant positive correlation between the number of years Cry3Bb1 maize had been grown in a field and the survival of rootworm populations on Cry3Bb1 maize in bioassays. However, there was no significant correlation among populations for survival on Cry34/35Ab1 maize and Cry3Bb1 maize, suggesting a lack of cross resistance between these Bt toxins.

Conclusions/significance: This is the first report of field-evolved resistance to a Bt toxin by the western corn rootworm and by any species of Coleoptera. Insufficient planting of refuges and non-recessive inheritance of resistance may have contributed to resistance. These results suggest that improvements in resistance management and a more integrated approach to the use of Bt crops may be necessary.

Conflict of interest statement

Competing Interests: Aaron Gassmann has received research funding, not related to this project, from Dow, Monsanto, Pioneer, Syngenta, and Bayer CropScience. Aaron Gassmann has filed a provisional patent for the seedling based assay described in this manuscript. This does not alter the authors' adherence to all the PLoS ONE policies on sharing data and materials.


Figure 1
Figure 1. Distribution of sites sampled within Iowa during 2009.
Sites beginning with C are control fields and were not associated with feeding injury to Bt maize, and sites beginning with P were problem fields, which were associated with farmer complaints of severe injury to Cry3Bb1 maize by corn rootworm. Codes correspond to Table 1 where a field history is provided along with the corrected survival for these populations of western corn rootworm on Cry3Bb1 maize and Cry34/35Ab1 maize.
Figure 2
Figure 2. Survival of western corn rootworm on Bt and non-Bt maize.
Data are shown for A) Cry3Bb1 maize and B) Cry34/35Ab1 maize. In both cases, survival also is shown for a non-Bt near isogenic hybrid. Bar heights are means and error bars are the standard error of the mean.
Figure 3
Figure 3. Correlation analysis for corrected survival of western corn rootworm.
Correlations are shown for A) survival on Cry3Bb1 maize and Cry34/35Ab1 maize and B) survival on Cry3Bb1 maize and number of years Cry3Bb1 maize was planted in a field. Symbols in the graphs correspond to Table 1, which lists corrected survival for populations on Bt maize and the cultivation history of fields. For (A), no significant correlation was present between survival on Cry3Bb1 maize and Cry34/35Ab1 maize (r = 0.068; df = 6; P = 0.87). For (B), a significant positive correlation was present between corrected survival on Cry3Bb1 maize and the number of years Cry3Bb1 maize had been grown in a field (r = 0.832; df = 7; P = 0.005).

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