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Biotech Science

Overuse of Bioengineered Corn Gives Rise To Resistant Pests 259

Posted by Soulskill
from the navigating-the-biotech-maize dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Though warned by scientists that overuse of a variety of corn engineered to be toxic to corn rootworms would eventually breed rootworms with resistance to its engineered toxicity, the agricultural industry went ahead and overused the corn anyway with little EPA intervention. The corn was planted in 1996. The first reports of rootworm resistance were officially documented in 2011, though agricultural scientists weren't allowed by seed companies to study the engineered corn until 2010. Now, a recent study has clearly shown how the rootworms have successfully adapted to the engineered corn. The corn's continued over-use is predicted, given current trends, and as resistance eventually spreads to the whole rootworm population, farmers will be forced to start using pesticides once more, thus negating the economic benefits of the engineered corn. 'Rootworm resistance was expected from the outset, but the Bt seed industry, seeking to maximize short-term profits, ignored outside scientists.'"
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Overuse of Bioengineered Corn Gives Rise To Resistant Pests

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  • Re:O RLY (Score:5, Insightful)

    by marcello_dl (667940) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @05:30AM (#46522727) Homepage Journal

    YA RLY
    And the corporations selling this stuff cannot care less about it, all they care about is that we transition to patented and sterile seeds so we perpetually depend on them. All the fuss surrounding GMO is about this.

    Needless to say, the corporations should be prosecuted as fraudsters unless those buying the seeds sign a contract which clearly states they assume all responsibility for what the seeds do to their environment and the nearby fields. Because if something bad happens it's the fault of either one.

  • by Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @05:31AM (#46522733)

    is this: agricultural scientists weren't allowed by seed companies to study the engineered corn until 2010.

    surely with the help of our corrupt lawmakers.

    How in the hell can scientists NOT be allowed to study IN DETAIL, and from the get-go, something as fundamentally groundbreaking and new as genetic engineering applied on a planet-wide scale for the first time ever in the history of life itself?

    We need a revolution to overthrow the current government structures the world over, and sooner rather than later, if only because some day, Something Bad[tm] will happen that'll cause genuine harm to humanity.

  • by Jawnn (445279) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @05:51AM (#46522803)
    We do (need that revolution), but it wont' happen because most people do not, or just refuse, to understand how bad things are. Science is hard, after all. Better to worry about things like abortion and gay marriage.
  • by dbIII (701233) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @05:54AM (#46522809)
    Such counter-revolutionary feeling is only happening due to yours being a matter of breaking away from a foreign power that was very busy at the time and so didn't come in to wash the streets of New York with blood. You clearly cannot imagine the price. Take a look at revolutions against strong and established governments based where the revolution has happened and you'll get a good idea of the cost. Take a look at the outcomes of those and compare it to what George Washington's revolution gave you.
    Do you really think you will get something better and what is wrong with George Washington's ideas in the first place that another revolution is required to replace them?
    Why do you think it will turn out better than what Egypt is dealing with now?
  • Re:O RLY (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SeeSchloss (886510) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @06:11AM (#46522863) Homepage

    unless those buying the seeds sign a contract which clearly states they assume all responsibility for what the seeds do to their environment

    Well, I might not have the same perspective on "muh freedom", but you shouldn't be allowed to sign such a contract at all, because the scope obviously surpasses you. In an ideal world with an ideal justice system, such a contract should be void and both those who sold and those who used the seeds are responsible for the damage.

    Sterile seeds have little to do with that, by the way, as they have been easy to produce and have been used for a long time already (sterility can be either desired or undesired depending on the crop, but usually it's just a side effect from hybridisation).

  • Re:O RLY (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @06:41AM (#46522925)

    It's their business model. Now, with the altered pests, they'll make another type of corn, and sell it for the next 5 years. And keep at it until the corn becomes too poisonous for humans or livestock to consume or the farmers/government wiseup.

  • Re:O RLY (Score:5, Insightful)

    by erikkemperman (252014) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @06:53AM (#46522947)

    The deeper problem, of which all this is a direct consequence, is allowing short term economic considerations of a tiny minority to outweigh the mid to long term environmental and health consequences (with associated dollar cost, of course) for society at large.

    FTFS:

    The corn was planted in 1996. The first reports of rootworm resistance were officially documented in 2011, though agricultural scientists weren't allowed by seed companies to study the engineered corn until 2010.

    Same thing is happening around fracking, companies are disallowing scientists to scrutinize the many chemicals they're squirting down into the earth, because trade secrets.

    In a democracy, everyone is responsible and accountable when, decade after decade, private profits are allowed to trump public well being, time and time again.

  • Re:A bit slanted? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bloodhawk (813939) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @06:54AM (#46522951)

    Okay, I can be pretty dense when it comes to reading between the lines, but even I notice a heavy dose of agenda in this summary. It's a good thing the anti-GMO folks have a crystal ball to see the future clearly.

    I guess we need our daily dose of propaganda though.

    I'm pro-GMO but I think this is one of the legitimate issues. If you engineer something to resist a pest the pest is going to evolve a response, we've learned that lesson countless times with anti-biotics but the pests evolve faster than human nature.

    Perhaps I am missing something but I fail to see the issue? it was completely expected for the pests to overcome it, GE corn was never going to be a solution forever, it doesn't negate all the years of use they got out of not having to use a heap of chemicals to kill the pests. Now they have to go back to chemicals again though, at least until they find the next method to counter them.

  • Re:O RLY (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lkcl (517947) <lkcl@lkcl.net> on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @06:56AM (#46522959) Homepage

    YA RLY
    And the corporations selling this stuff cannot care less about it, all they care about is that we transition to patented and sterile seeds so we perpetually depend on them.

    my biggest concern is that they start creating what can only be described as "generation time-bomb crops", in a pathologically-insane effort to further save money. "time-bomb crops" would be those which you plant once, they grow, seed, plant twice, they grow, place a third time and they FAIL.

    now imagine such insanely-dangerous crops pollenating and cross-pollenating world-wide and it's not so hard to imagine a scenario in which world famine occurs within a five to eight year period in which all food crops world-wide completely fail.

    i was actually pretty shocked when i first heard of sterile seeds that even have a *single* generation planting. there's no guarantee that nature will not, through its own process of DNA evolution, *accidentally* come up with generation time-bomb crops.

    i've said it once and i'll say it again: genetic modifications to crops are so insanely dangerous that i'm beyond understanding why people do not understand this. if there was even the *slightest* risk of killing 7 billion people *why would you even contemplate it*?

  • Re:O RLY (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Stormthirst (66538) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @07:49AM (#46523125)

    But but but ... that might mean more government interference and then where would my Libertarian nonsense be? Shouldn't the free market sort this out? /sarcasm

  • by N1AK (864906) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @08:10AM (#46523191) Homepage
    I can't see what the actual issue with the situation put forwards by the article is. Farmers have been able to use considerably less pesticide for a decade, the effectiveness of that solution is falling so they'll have to go back to using pesticide. How is that worse than just having used pesticide throughout the whole period and have the rootworm build up a better resistance to that instead?
  • by Maury Markowitz (452832) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @08:31AM (#46523263) Homepage

    "1996. The first reports of root worm resistance were officially documented in 2011"

    So we got 15 years of pesticide-free corn? And the downside is we have to return to what we used to do, until we get another variety?

    If it's 15 years for that one too, I suspect we can out engineer the bugs continually.

  • Re:O RLY (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gstoddart (321705) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @08:32AM (#46523271) Homepage

    In a democracy, everyone is responsible and accountable when, decade after decade, private profits are allowed to trump public well being, time and time again.

    Welcome to the dystpoian oligarchy, where the only thing which matters is corporate profits, and where you assume it's safe until someone proves otherwise -- all the while making it impossible for people to study it enough to find out.

  • Re:O RLY (Score:4, Insightful)

    by morgauxo (974071) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @09:03AM (#46523455)

    "and also seem to be conflating what the GMO industry is doing right now with the underlying technology."

    There's a lot of that going around. Isn't that what pretty much every anti-GMO person does?

  • Re:O RLY (Score:5, Insightful)

    by neonKow (1239288) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @09:37AM (#46523669) Journal

    It's called OVERuse for a reason. If you use these technologies in reasonable ways, you can control pest populations while maintaining the effectiveness of the toxin. If you ONLY use this corn and it's this effective, you are basically breading the corn rootworms for resistance.

    If you stupidly sprint at the start of a marathon you burn up your resources too quickly, and the same thing is happening here.

  • Re:O RLY (Score:3, Insightful)

    by next_ghost (1868792) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @09:51AM (#46523765)

    my biggest concern is that they start creating what can only be described as "generation time-bomb crops", in a pathologically-insane effort to further save money. "time-bomb crops" would be those which you plant once, they grow, seed, plant twice, they grow, place a third time and they FAIL.

    now imagine such insanely-dangerous crops pollenating and cross-pollenating world-wide and it's not so hard to imagine a scenario in which world famine occurs within a five to eight year period in which all food crops world-wide completely fail.

    Sorry but you don't understand even the complete basics of genetics. Time-bomb crops wouldn't be that dangerous in the wild even if they actually existed. It's extremely unlikely that a significant portion of normal crop population would become contaminated by time-bomb genes in just a few years. And two plants with both normal and time-bomb genes still have 25% chance of producing completely clean offspring.

    Also, the chance of infertile hybrid turning into multigeneration time-bomb is practically zero. It's much easier to simply break the reproductive system completely than to build a generation countdown into it.

  • by Somebody Is Using My (985418) on Wednesday March 19, 2014 @09:52AM (#46523773) Homepage

    Seed with limited number of generation, simply kick themselves out of any gene pool which has no such limitation.

    While in the long run this is true, in the short run the effects of this can be ruinous to an environment.

    In a natural setting, such self-limiting organisms would never be able to get a strong foothold; when they inevitably die out, the rest of the plant kingdom easily makes up the slack. Unfortunately, due to human intervention it is quite possible for these suicidal genes to spread far, far beyond what their 'natural' reach. Thus, when plants infected with these genes inevitably die off, the gap they will leave behind could be much larger than would be otherwise expected. Ultimately, there will be other plants - either those never infected with the "suicide" genes or mutants that bypass this repressive bit of DNA - that will take over the rolls played by those limited by their genes. But in the meantime, the plants and animals (including humans and their civilization) would have a rough time of it as their food source suddenly shrivels up and die.

    Yes, we - like the rest of the animal kingdom - would eventually adapt. But pity those caught in the period of disruption, no matter how "short-term" it is in the overall scheme of things.

    It is like the argument against global warming. Yes, the planet has weathered periods where it was both warmer and colder than it is now, and yes, life will continue if the current conditions change. But our species - and our civilizations - have adapted to current conditions and the transitory periods would bring great hardship. It's all well and good to say "life will go on" but that ignores all the pain and suffering of those living during the transition, which is sort of contrary to the whole point of having a civilization to begin with.

    We have the wisdom and ability to avoid these disruptions - whether caused by mismanagement of our seedcrop or the pollutants from our industry - and ignoring the dangers these cause simply because /life/ will surely survive the changing conditions is foolish. It's not just life that is important, but individual lives. It is all the more ridiculous since we are charging recklessly ahead with these dangerous technologies simply with the aim of increasing the shareholder value of a corporation.

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