STUDY: Assessing Potential Impact of Bt Eggplants on Non-Target Arthropods in the Philippines

By Michael Stebbins • December 13, 2016

The following is an excerpt of a study in the open access journal PLoS One about an eggplant that is genetically engineered to be resistant to one type of pest, and how that affects other organisms in the ecosystem.

Studies on potential adverse effects of genetically engineered crops are part of an environmental risk assessment that is required prior to the commercial release of these crops. Of particular concern are non-target organisms (NTOs) that provide important ecosystem services.

Here, we report on studies conducted in the Philippines over three cropping seasons with Bt eggplants expressing Cry1Ac for control of the eggplant fruit and shoot borer (EFSB), Leucinodes orbonalis, to examine potential effects on field abundance, community composition, structure and biodiversity of NTO’s, particularly non-target arthropod (NTA) communities.

We document that many arthropod taxa are associated with Bt eggplants and their non-Bt comparators and that the number of taxa and their densities varied within season and across trials. However, we found few significant differences in seasonal mean densities of arthropod taxa between Bt and non-Bt eggplants.

As expected, a lower abundance of lepidopteran pests was detected in Bt eggplants. Higher abundance of a few non-target herbivores was detected in non-Bt eggplants as were a few non-target beneficials that might control them. Principal Response Curve (PRC) analyses showed no statistically significant impact of Bt eggplants on overall arthropod communities through time in any season.

Furthermore, we found no significant adverse impacts of Bt eggplants on species abundance, diversity and community dynamics, particularly for beneficial NTAs. These results support our previous studies documenting that Bt eggplants can effectively and selectively control the main pest of eggplant in Asia, the EFSB. The present study adds that it can do so without adverse effects on NTAs.

Thus, Bt eggplants can be a foundational component for controlling EFSB in an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program and dramatically reduce dependence on conventional insecticides.

Please visit PLoS One to read the entire study. 

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