Transgenic Research

, Volume 19, Issue 2, pp 257–267 | Cite as

Decomposition dynamics and structural plant components of genetically modified Bt maize leaves do not differ from leaves of conventional hybrids

  • Corinne ZurbrüggEmail author
  • Linda Hönemann
  • Michael Meissle
  • Jörg Romeis
  • Wolfgang Nentwig
Original Paper


The cultivation of genetically modified Bt maize has raised environmental concerns, as large amounts of plant residues remain in the field and may negatively impact the soil ecosystem. In a field experiment, decomposition of leaf residues from three genetically modified (two expressing the Cry1Ab, one the Cry3Bb1 protein) and six non-transgenic hybrids (the three corresponding non-transformed near-isolines and three conventional hybrids) was investigated using litterbags. To elucidate the mechanisms that cause differences in plant decomposition, structural plant components (i.e., C:N ratio, lignin, cellulose, hemicellulose) were examined. Furthermore, Cry1Ab and Cry3Bb1 protein concentrations in maize leaf residues were measured from harvest to the next growing season. While leaf residue decomposition in transgenic and non-transgenic plants was similar, differences among conventional cultivars were evident. Similarly, plant components among conventional hybrids differed more than between transgenic and non-transgenic hybrids. Moreover, differences in senescent plant material collected directly from plants were larger than after exposure to soil for 5 months. While the concentration of Cry3Bb1 was higher in senescent maize leaves than that of Cry1Ab, degradation was faster, indicating that Cry3Bb1 has a shorter persistence in plant residues. As decomposition patterns of Bt-transgenic maize were shown to be well within the range of common conventional hybrids, there is no indication of ecologically relevant, adverse effects on the activity of the decomposer community.


Bacillus thuringiensis Cry1Ab Cry3Bb1 Environmental risk assessment Plant litter Soil ecosystem 



We thank L. Kuhn-Nentwig for technical help in the laboratory and V. Keller and B. Tschanz for assistance in the field. We are thankful to the farmers for providing their fields. H.P Kunc, S. Dubelmann, C. Zwahlen and two anonymous reviewers gave valuable comments on an earlier draft of this article. We thank Monsanto for providing maize seeds and P. Natale and L. French for kindly providing eggs of the Colorado Potato Beetle and the European Corn Borer. We are grateful to H. Bachmann and F. Blum for instructions on the C/N analyzer. This project was funded by the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Corinne Zurbrügg
    • 1
    • 3
    Email author
  • Linda Hönemann
    • 1
  • Michael Meissle
    • 2
  • Jörg Romeis
    • 2
  • Wolfgang Nentwig
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Ecology and EvolutionUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland
  2. 2.Agroscope Reckenholz-Tänikon Research Station ARTZurichSwitzerland
  3. 3.AGRIDEALindauSwitzerland

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