Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Pink bollworms beat Monsanto

Evolution beats Monsanto
Monsanto has revealed that a common insect pest has developed resistance to its flagship genetically modified (GM) product in India. The agricultural biotechnology leader says it "detected unusual survival" of pink bollworms that fed on cotton containing the Cry1Ac gene from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, which codes for a protein that's toxic to many insect pests. In a statement to Science, Monsanto claims that the finding from western India "is the first case of field-relevant resistance to Cry1Ac products, anywhere in the world."


  1. I think it's overstepping the mark a little to claim this is 'beating monsanto' if anything this plays into Monsanto's hands - given that Bollgard II has 2 different modes of action making the resistant worms susceptible.

    It also seems a little suspect that some are seeing this as an eye opener, or a reason to impose a moratorium on GM crops - resistance, particularly to a single gene IR product, is almost a certainty over time (proof of evolution in action) and has likely only been thwarted elsewhere in the world by use of refuge etc - one would expect to see the same kind of thing occur for any insecticide utilized so broadly - making insecticide resistance a constant issue for any succesful product brought to market in that particular area.

    For these very reasons Monsanto (and other biotech companies) are constantly on the lookout for newer, better, insect control genes - in very much the same way that plants must constantly compete against insects in an evolutionary arms race, it can only be expected that biotech will also have to do the same thing

  2. I, on the other hand, am thrilled about these news, but I am sure you knew that already, Ewan.

    The debate on GMO is very hot in Europe after the EC allowing Amflora being produced in Europe. In Sweden pigfarmers are being seriously questioned for feeding pigs with imported GMO-soy. Some suggest a boycott of pigmeat. The battle about GMO is far from over in Europe.

  3. I'm interested as to why, other than an underlying dislike for Monsanto, you'd be thrilled about this news.

    This won't stop the use of GM IR cotton in India, it's a few cases of mild resistance (I seem to recall reading that even amongst resistant populations there was still a high larval fatality rate, just not necessarily 100%) in a few areas. There is a successor product on the market which has increasing share and which has no instances of evolved resistance (bollgard II)(yet - as it is a double stack my personal expectation would be that it would take a longer time for resistance to develop, but it'd be pretty foolhardy to suggest resistance would never arise). It is highly likely that given the incidence of some resistance Ag in India will have to start including refuge areas - a tactic in the US which has worked well to prevent/slow down the incidence of resistance.

    I also wonder whether you'd truly be happy with the alternative to the use of Bt technology in Indian cotton, there would be an increase in insecticide use (particularly class I insecticides used to control bollworm - these I believe are the most toxic used), a decrease in farmer yields (looking at Indian cotton production over the past thirty years shows the impact that Bt had, and continues to have) and a decrease in farmer profitability - with the accompanying increase in utilization of child labor, likely removal of kids from education so they go back to working on the farm, etc etc etc.

    I'm aware that the debate on GMOs is still raging in Europe, and am saddened by the lack of actual informed choices being made on the matter - your previous list of ills of Monsanto illustrates the misinformation that continues to be spread by the main protagonists for the anti-GM side - either relying on a general public fear of what they don't know or understand (genetic engineering in general) or literally inventing stuff - liver/kidney toxicity, Indian farmer suicides etc etc - however while I'm not sure how things are going in mainland Europe I am rather pleased to see that at least in the UK the tide does appear to be turning somewhat as farmers realize (and probably have for the past decade) that they are sacrificing productivity at the altar of public fear, that imported animal feed is increasingly hard to come by (particularly with the rather ridiculous notion that ships full of non-GMO feed with even minute trace quantities of GMO products remaining from a previous shipment can be turned away) and that competing globally is increasingly difficult due to the higher cost of non-GMO farming) and with the government realizing that in the next 30-50 years food security will increasingly become an issue and that one part of solving this problem is likely to be GM (be that from commercial sources or academic sources)