Sex and death in the cornfields, Part II- Why rootworms?

Hi, I started this series to explain a little more background behind the news and opinion articles you may have seen about Bt-resistant corn rootworms, with scary titles like Voracious worm evolves to eat biotech corn engineered to kill it and Evolution one-ups genetic modification.  I started out talking about the system as it was originally developed for moths, but I wanted to come back to talk about why rootworms are so good at developing resistance to Bt crops.  Part I of this article talked about refuges and how they are used to slow insect resistance, so I’m assuming you know how a refuge works.  If you don’t, check out Sex and death in the cornfields: What is a refuge?

Diabrotica virgifera virgifera

Western corn rootworm. Image by S Gorski.

There are several different pestiferous species of rootworms, but they are often lumped together because their larvae are difficult to tell apart.  The Western corn rootworm (Diabrotica virgifera virgifera) is the most damaging and most studied.

As you may recall, transgenic Bt-expressing corn targeting rootworms has only been around since 2003, and there are already reports of resistance.  Resistance has been confirmed in Iowa.  Reduced susceptibility has been reported in Colorado, Minnesota, Nebraska, and South Dakota.  (Reduced susceptibility is basically the same idea as resistance, but is defined more loosely; there is a lower standard of evidence to meet.)  So it looks like there will be more resistance occurring in the near future.

It looks like we haven’t been as effective in slowing resistance development with rootworm-active transgenics as with moth-active transgenics.  Why? There are lots of things about the rootworm system that make it less simple and less elegant than the moth system. Continue reading.

GM Watch finds GENERA useful, “badly needed”

In a discussion about the scientific literature on genetically engineered crops, Claire Robinson of GM Watch has previously said: ”I am, as you say, unaware of your GENERA project. A comprehensive list of studies on all aspects of GMOs is badly needed but beyond our means to gather together.” Biology Fortified, Inc., with our limited resources and volunteer staff, have come to the rescue and created this “badly needed” resource. Happily, GM Watch is now aware that GENERA is in beta testing, with more to come.

In response to our recent press release about the beta test of GENERA, GM Watch* tried the resource out, and found it useful. They were able to use GENERA to search for literature, find the information they wanted, and they agreed with our evaluation of the scientific literature in at least two cases, as discussed in a post they published in response to our press release about GENERA. Although they thought it both needed and useful, their post took an odd tone in the form of a criticism – claiming that we were misrepresenting the research contained in GENERA and leaving out important information. There were so many misunderstandings in their post that I wanted to help them to understand what it all means and clear up their confusion. Continue reading.

Concentrate Organic Matter at Surface to Improve Soils

tilling the field

Intensive tillage with moldboard plow

Organic matter is the key to soil quality, but building soil organic matter levels can be slow and expensive. There is an alternative. Research shows (Franzluebbers, 2002) many soil functions improve when organic matter is concentrated in the top 2-3″ of the soil, and that, for many soils and environments, this may be the most effective way to improve soil quality.

Soil organic matter (SOM) is crucial for many soil functions, and so has been a primary indicator of soil quality. The % organic matter of the top 6, 8, or 12″ of soil is often used to evaluate whether a soil is improving or degrading. In gardens and small fields, it is relatively easy to increase the quantity of SOM. Not so in large fields where crop residues are often the only source of organic matter, and where increasing SOM by even 0.5% may require a decade of costly effort. In these fields, shifting focus from the total amount of organic matter in a soil to the organic matter concentration at the soil surface is most beneficial. Continue reading.

The new Frank N. Foode™!

Here’s a short update that I’m sure everyone will be interested to hear about. After several redesigns and adjustments, I’m really pleased to announce that the design for the new Frank N. Foode plushie that many of you have been waiting for – is done!

newfrank2

So here’ what comes next. Continue reading.

Announcing the launch of the GENERA beta test

We are proud to announce the launch of the new GENetic Engineering Risk Atlas (GENERA) website and the public beta test of our system. Today, for the first time ever, the public will be able to see what we have been working on for so long. Check out our press release and let us know what you think about the new GENetic Engineering Risk Atlas! In addition, scroll to the bottom to see infographics made by the Genetic Literacy Project to illustrate some of the important preliminary findings of the GENERA project. Continue reading.