Genetically Engineered Corn "Calls" for Help From Predators

Scientists have created a mutant strain of corn that can signal when it's under attack according to a new study. This feat has been achieved by augmenting natural defenses that are already present in the corn to emit a sort of 'distress call' when beetle larvae attack.

The corn releases a gassy chemical compound into the soil that alerts parasitic nematodes (also called roundworms) to do what they do best - kill the beetle larvae - generally within three days after receiving the signal. The bio-engineered corn incorporates an oregano plant gene responsible for the chemical compound.

Scientists have been researching ways to slow the assault of the western corn rootworm which destroys more than a billion dollars worth of crop damage each year.  Tests conducted involving the mutant corn versus normal corn showed the enhanced corn suffering reduced root damage and 60 percent less adult rootworm beetles.

While there are plenty of objections to tampering with Mother Nature, this form of genetic intervention helps strengthen a defense present in European strains of corn. The scientists behind the study believe that selective breeding and increased pesticide use have diminished the defenses of corn plants in the United States.

"We used a controversial approach, with genetic engineering, to enhance a very much favored [among environmentalists] approach, which is biological control," told study co-author and zoologist at the University of Neuchatel in Switzerland, Ted Turlings.

"This is probably the first study to demonstrate that the two are compatible".

Mmmmm - mutant corn anyone?

Posted by jucy on August 7,2009 at 2:54 AM

in early publication in PNAS (Restoring a maize root signal that attracts insect-killing nematodes to control a major pest, PNAS published online before print August 3, 2009, doi:10.1073/pnas.0906365106)

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