Bt expression in maize plant tissues and the impact of gene flow
Richardson, Grant Anthony
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In 2007, the first case of field resistance to Cry1Ab was reported in South Africa, which is a concern as it negates the benefit of this technology. It has been suggested that a major contributing factor to the development of resistance in the target insect was the lack of compliance by commercial farmers to plant refugia. However, another possible mechanism of resistance development is the production of sub-lethal doses of Cry1Ab that could have resulted in a high selective pressure for resistance alleles. Although there are studies that have determined levels of Cry1Ab in different tissue in MON810 maize, the available data is not complete, especially for important feeding tissue of B. fusca larvae, such as silk and cob sheath. In this study, a comprehensive analysis of levels of Cry1Ab within and between different tissue over the growing season was conducted, taking the effect of gene flow also into account. Field trials were performed over the 2008/2009 and 2009/2010 growing seasons under conventional farming practice. Gene flow was allowed to occur between IR and non-IR maize in the 2008/2009 growing season, and the F1 seed was planted in the 2009/2010 growing season. The levels of Cry1Ab were monitored over both growing seasons, including the F1 plants in the second season. Notably, this study was the first to determine levels of Cry1Ab in cob sheath, which is considered one of the primary food sources for B. fusca larvae. It was found that there was considerable variation in levels of Cry1Ab within and between different tissue over the growing season. The data for the majority of the sampling points was moderately to highly skewed, indicating the non-parametric range in variation of Cry1Ab levels. There was a significant difference in Cry1Ab production between the two growing seasons, which was attributed to the lower than average rainfall in the 2008/2009 growing season and a higher than average rainfall in the 2009/2010 growing season. The overall trend in Cry1Ab production was congruent with the pattern of target insect larval survival after feeding on different tissue as reported by Van Rensburg (2009). Based on these data we suggest that important insect feeding tissue, namely silk, cob sheath and cob, could be producing sub-lethal doses of Cry1Ab that may result in ineffective control of insect pests. It appears that the decline in Cry1Ab production at late growth stages, in conjunction with variable levels of Cry1Ab between different tissue, may compromise the high dose/refugia strategy, resulting in selective pressure for the evolution of resistance. The gene flow study determined that outcrossing between IR and non-IR maize adversely affects the level of Cry1Ab in F1 plants. The levels of Cry1Ab were significantly lower in F1 maize when compared to a commercial MON810 maize hybrid, possibly as a result of reduced fitness. These data support the observation of increased insect larvae damage to F1 plants, suggesting that F1 maize may produce sub-lethal doses of endotoxin, and consequently will not effectively control insect pests. The considerably lower expression of Cry1Ab in F1 plants is a consideration in respect to subsistence farming practice in Africa, where seed is saved or exchanged among farmers. We postulate that the introduction of IR maize in subsistence farming could promote the development of insect resistance if not managed correctly. In conclusion, the current study has determined that there is a wide range of level of Cry1Ab within and between different tissue over the growing season. Gene flow adversely affects Cry1Ab production, potentially due to reduced fitness of the F1 plants. These data support the observation of differential rates of larvae survival when feeding on different IR maize tissue. Finally, the study provides an important basis for understanding the potential role that variable levels of Cry1Ab may have had on the development of resistance in B. fusca in South Africa.