Biology and Fertility of Soils

, Volume 48, Issue 3, pp 315–324 | Cite as

Effects of conventionally bred and Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) maize varieties on soil microbial biomass and activity

  • Andreas Fließbach
  • Monika Messmer
  • Bruno Nietlispach
  • Valentina Infante
  • Paul Mäder
Original Paper


Genetically modified (GM) maize containing genes from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) was cultivated on 29% of the total maize production area worldwide in 2009. Most studies to date compare Bt-maize varieties with their near isogenic lines; however, there is little information on the variability of conventional maize breeding lines and how the effects of Bt varieties are ranked within. In our study on the potential risks of Bt-maize varieties, we analyzed tissue quality and compared the effects of ten conventional and GM maize varieties on soil microbiological properties in a replicated climate chamber experiment. All maize varieties were cultivated twice in the same soil microcosm. Shoot yields and soluble C in leaf tissue of Bt varieties were higher than the ones of non-Bt. Soil dehydrogenase activity was reduced by 5% under Bt varieties compared to non-Bt, while most of the other soil microbial properties (soil microbial biomass, basal respiration) showed no significant differences between Bt and non-Bt varieties. The leaves and roots of one Bt variety were decomposed to a greater extent than the ones of its near isogenic line; the conventional breeding lines also showed higher values. Changes in crop and soil parameters were found when comparing the first and the second crops, but the effects of repeated cropping were the same for all tested varieties. For the studied parameters, the variation among non-Bt-maize varieties was similar to the difference between Bt and non-Bt varieties.


Bt-maize Soil fertility Cry1Ab GMO Microbial biomass Soil respiration Dehydrogenase Mycorrhiza 



The work of Kathi Hothum and Antje Stotz as part of their practical stage at FiBL is gratefully acknowledged. We are especially grateful to Prof. Dr. Geneviève Défago (ETH, Zürich) who kindly provided the seeds of genetically modified Bt-maize that we were otherwise not able to achieve. The project was funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation in the frame of the NFP59 “Benefits and Risks of the Deliberate Release of Genetically Modified Plants.” Within the framework of NFP59, we thank Michael Sander and Michael Madliger (both ETH, Zürich) for their support in the quantification of the Cry1Ab proteins and Claudia Zwahlen (Uni Neuchâtel) for the helpful comments on the outcome of this project. Two unknown reviewers provided valuable input to the submitted manuscript and are gratefully acknowledged here.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andreas Fließbach
    • 1
  • Monika Messmer
    • 1
  • Bruno Nietlispach
    • 1
  • Valentina Infante
    • 1
    • 2
  • Paul Mäder
    • 1
  1. 1.Research Institute of Organic AgricultureFrickSwitzerland
  2. 2.Facultad de Agronomía e Ingeniería ForestalPontificia Universidad Católica de ChileSantiagoChile

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