, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 345-354

Interactions of Bacillus thuringiensis Cry1Ac toxin in genetically engineered cotton with predatory heteropterans

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Abstract

A number of cotton varieties have been genetically transformed with genes from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) to continuously produce Bt endotoxins, offering whole plant and season-long protection against many lepidopteran larvae. Constant whole-plant toxin expression creates a significant opportunity for non-target herbivores to acquire and bio-accumulate the toxin for higher trophic levels. In the present study we investigated movement of Cry1Ac toxin from the transgenic cotton plant through specific predator-prey pairings, using omnivorous predators with common cotton pests as prey: (1) the beet armyworm, Spodoptera exigua (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae), with the predator Podisus maculiventris (Heteroptera: Pentatomidae); (2) the two-spotted spider mite, Tetranychus urticae (Acarina: Tetranychidae), with the predatory big-eyed bug Geocoris punctipes (Heteroptera: Geocoridae) and (3) with the predatory damsel bug Nabis roseipennis (Heteropera: Nabidae); and (4) the thrips Frankliniella occidentalis (Thysanoptera: Thripidae) with the predatory pirate bug Orius insidiosus (Heteroptera: Anthocoridae). We quantified Cry1Ac toxin in the cotton plants, and in the pests and predators, and the effects of continuous feeding on S. exigua larvae fed either Bt or non-Bt cotton on life history traits of P. maculiventris. All three herbivores were able to convey Cry1Ac toxin to their respective predators. Among the herbivores, T. urticae exhibited 16.8 times more toxin in their bodies than that expressed in Bt-cotton plant, followed by S. exigua (1.05 times), and F. occidentalis immatures and adults (0.63 and 0.73 times, respectively). Of the toxin in the respective herbivorous prey, 4, 40, 17 and 14% of that amount was measured in the predators G. punctipes, P. maculiventris, O. insidiosus, and N. roseipennis, respectively. The predator P. maculiventris exhibited similar life history characteristics (developmental time, survival, longevity, and fecundity) regardless of the prey’s food source. Thus, Cry1Ac toxin is conveyed through non-target herbivores to natural enemies at different levels depending on the herbivore species, but continuous lifetime contact with the toxin by the predator P. maculiventris through its prey had no effect on the predator’s life history. The results found here, supplemented with others already published, suggest that feeding on Cry1Ac contaminated non-target herbivores does not harm predatory heteropterans and, therefore, cultivation of Bt cotton may provide an opportunity for conservation of these predators in cotton ecosystems by reducing insecticide use.