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Bt cotton

Cotton and other monocultured crops require an intensive use of pesticides as various types of pests attack these crops causing extensive damage. Over the past 40 years, many pests have developed resistance to pesticides.

So far, the only successful approach to engineering crops for insect tolerance has been the addition of Bt toxin, a family of toxins originally derived from soil bacteria. The Bt toxin contained by the Bt crops is no different from other chemical pesticides, but causes much less damage to the environment. These toxins are effective against a variety of economically important crop pests but pose no hazard to non-target organisms like mammals and fish. Three Bt crops are now commercially available: corn, cotton, and potato.

Bt cotton

As of now, cotton is the most popular of the Bt crops: it was planted on about 1.8 million acres (728437 ha) in 1996 and 1997. The Bt gene was isolated and transferred from a bacterium bacillus thurigiensis to American cotton. The American cotton was subsequently crossed with Indian cotton to introduce the gene into native varieties.

The Bt cotton variety contains a foreign gene obtained from bacillus thuringiensis. This bacterial gene, introduced genetically into the cotton seeds, protects the plants from bollworm (A. lepidoptora), a major pest of cotton. The worm feeding on the leaves of a BT cotton plant becomes lethargic and sleepy, thereby causing less damage to the plant.

Field trials have shown that farmers who grew the Bt variety obtained 25%–75% more cotton than those who grew the normal variety. Also, Bt cotton requires only two sprays of chemical pesticide against eight sprays for normal variety. According to the director general of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, India uses about half of its pesticides on cotton to fight the bollworm menace.

Use of Bt cotton has led to a 3%–27 increase in cotton yield in countries where it is grown.

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