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Next wave of GE crops coming

(Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2002 -- CropChoice news) -- via Agnet: Observers anticipate that 2003 will see a wave of second-generation genetically engineered (GE) crops begin to emerge in agricultural production.

The new GE options will offer both broadened and more targeted capabilities, and likely add fuel to the ongoing controversy surrounding transgenic crops in general.

Most of the additions will involve genes derived from the soil bacterium Bacillus thruringiensis (Bt). Among the Bt-based items on the near and more distant horizons are: a new Bt trait toxic to Agostis ipsilon (black cutworm), Spodop- tera frugiperda (fall armyworm), Diatraea grandiosella (south- western corn borer), and Ostrinia nubilalis (European corn borer); stacking (building in) two or more Bt traits in a crop plant so as to control multiple pest insect species or mutations; developing a "Bt soybean" for protection against Anticarsia gemmatalis (velvetbean caterpillar) and other insect pests; pairing insect and herbicide (glyphosate) resistance traits within one plant species; engineering to increase the toxicity, specificity, and longevity of Bt proteins; and further in the future, engineering plants to induce insecticidal characteristics in just the tissue where insects are feeding.

Reporting in a recent issue of FARM JOURNAL, A. Burchett notes that, by stacking multiple novel proteins within a crop plant, resistant insect pests that survive eating one Bt protein would likely succumb to consuming the second one, thereby preventing mutant insects from repro-ducing. The concept has obvious implications for current refugia strategies. In "Bt's New Bite," Burchett quotes an industry representative as saying that "essentially, all invertebrate plant pests can be managed with Bt technology." The representative also said that he can foresee a situation in the future when insect control becomes predominantly based on biological (i.e., GE techniques) rather than application of insecticidal chemicals.