Pests Evolve to Eat Corn Designed to Kill Them
Corn rootworm is once again making a dent in farmers' crops
By John Johnson, Newser Staff
Posted Mar 18, 2014 7:06 PM CDT
Updated Mar 22, 2014 7:00 PM CDT
File photo of a cornfield in South Dakota.   (AP Photo/Aberdeen American News, John Davis, File)

(Newser) – A hungry pest known as the western corn rootworm is gradually developing a resistance to genetically modified crops engineered to kill it, reports Nature. Entomologists say they're discovering more and more of the beetles that show no ill effects after chowing down on fields of Bt corn—so named because it contains a gene called Bacillus thuringiensis that's supposed to be lethal to the pest. This could be a major problem because Bt corn accounts for an astounding three-fourths of the nation's corn, reports Wired. The engineered corn first got planted in 1996, and it swiftly gained popularity with US farmers because it wiped out nearly all the rootworms that tried to eat it and eliminated the need for pesticide spraying.

The key words there being "nearly all." The small percentage of rootworms resistant to the corn has grown, and the scientists lay much of the blame on bad land management. The agriculture industry viewed the Bt corn as a cure-all and didn't do things as simple as crop rotation to limit the spread of the pests. "Generally, one year of soybeans in a field with resistant western corn rootworms wipes out that population," a University of Nebraska-Lincoln entomologist tells the Farm and Ranch Guide. "The beetles will lay eggs that hatch, but when larvae try to feed on soybean plants, they don't find the nutrients they need and they die." The new study urges immediate changes along those lines before the problem gets worse. In the meantime, farmers growing the Bt corn will likely have to turn back to pesticides if their crops get infested.

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Showing 3 of 193 comments
Mar 28, 2014 12:41 PM CDT
That's just great. Our salt of the earth, know more than city folks farmers haven't even figured out how to farm. Crop rotation is a principle that goes back thousands of years. Until the farm folks apparently have decided they don't need no guvmint types a tellin' them whats to do on their land.
Mar 23, 2014 10:02 AM CDT
I the Federales are involved, it's a lost cause ! Forget corn.
Sam the Sham
Mar 23, 2014 7:36 AM CDT
I'm, I'm simply saying that life, uh... finds a way.