By Mark Steil,
Minnesota Public Radio
An insect that can fatally weaken the root system of corn crops is overcoming the main line of defense that farmers have against the pest, posing a threat to Minnesota’s nearly $5 billion corn crop.
Western rootworm beetles climb on a corn stalk. (Photo courtesy Kenneth Ostlie/University of Minnesota)
The corn rootworm is developing resistance to genetically modified corn, which contains a protein that normally is deadly to the pest. Researchers at Iowa State University have documented what they say is the first known example of rootworms able to survive the toxin.
By killing the insect, genetically modified corn saves farmers the extra step and cost of spraying insecticide on their fields. Farmers like it so much that an estimated three quarters of the nation’s corn crop is genetically modified.
But if the corn rootworm can eat the corn and survive, it will cost farmers money. As the name implies, the pest loves to feed on the roots of the plant, said Iowa State University entomologist Aaron Gassmann, the lead researcher on the school’s research.
“The rootworm makes it very difficult for the corn to remain standing straight in the face of winds that are associated with storms, for example,” Gassmann said.
Farmers in northeast Iowa first alerted university researchers in 2009 that they were seeing rootworm damage in genetically modified corn fields where the pest should have been killed. The farmers suspected that the rootworms had developed immunity to the protein implanted in the corn.
Read more at Minnesota Public Radio
Ed. Note: An even better idea is not to plant GM corn at all.
Related: Don Huber on Food Chain Radio: What will the Monsanto Bug do to us? Saturday, Aug. 20, 9 AM Pacific.