Scientific Correspondence | Published:

Transgenic pollen harms monarch larvae


Although plants transformed with genetic material from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt ) are generally thought to have negligible impact on non-target organisms1, Bt corn plants might represent a risk because most hybrids express the Bt toxin in pollen2, and corn pollen is dispersed over at least 60 metres by wind3. Corn pollen is deposited on other plants near corn fields and can be ingested by the non-target organisms that consume these plants. In a laboratory assay we found that larvae of the monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus, reared on milkweed leaves dusted with pollen from Bt corn, ate less, grew more slowly and suffered higher mortality than larvae reared on leaves dusted with untransformed corn pollen or on leaves without pollen.

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Figure 1: Survival and leaf consumption of second- to third-instar monarch larvae on each of three milkweed leaf treatments: leaves with no pollen (light blue), leaves treated with untransformed corn pollen (green) and leaves dusted with pollen from Bt corn (dark blue).


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