PerspectivePlant Science

Communal Benefits of Transgenic Corn

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Science  08 Oct 2010:
Vol. 330, Issue 6001, pp. 189-190
DOI: 10.1126/science.1196864

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Genetically engineered crops represent one of the most controversial and rapidly adopted technologies in the history of agriculture. First grown commercially in 1996, transgenic crops covered 135 million hectares (ha) in 25 countries during 2009 (1). To reduce reliance on insecticide sprays, corn and cotton have been genetically engineered to make insecticidal proteins derived from the common bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). These Bt toxins kill some devastating insect pests, but unlike broad-spectrum insecticides, they do little or no harm to most other organisms, including people (2). Many pests have rapidly evolved resistance to insecticides, however, spurring concerns that adaptation by pests could quickly reduce the efficacy of Bt crops and the associated environmental, health, and economic benefits (37). On page 222 of this issue, Hutchison et al. (8) rein in some of those concerns, documenting a landmark case in which Bt corn has remained effective against a major pest for more than a decade, yielding billions of dollars of estimated benefits to farmers in the midwestern United States.