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Digest of Reports about the butterfly-killing corn

Nature article - Transgenic pollen harms monarch larvae
NY Times web site May 20, 1999 Pollen From Genetically Altered Corn Threatens Monarch Butterfly, Study Finds
Front Page of Wall Street Journal
Washington Post
GE article on MSNBC
Union of Concerned Scientists
Report from the BBC on new research


Nature 399, 214 (1999) © Macmillan Publishers Ltd.
Transgenic pollen harms monarch larvae
JOHN E. LOSEY, LINDA S. RAYOR & MAUREEN E. CARTER

Although plants transformed with genetic material from the bacterium
Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) are generally thought to have negligible impact
on non-target organisms, Bt corn plants might represent a risk because most
hybrids express the Bt toxin in pollen, and corn pollen is dispersed over
at least 60 metres by wind. 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.

Nature © Macmillan Publishers Ltd 1999 Registered No. 785998 England.

..............

NY Times web site
May 20, 1999
Pollen From Genetically Altered Corn Threatens Monarch Butterfly, Study Finds

By CAROL KAESUK YOON

All around the country, farmers are about to finish sowing millions of
acres of a genetically altered form of corn that protects itself from pests
by producing a toxin in its tissues. But researchers report on Thursday
that this increasingly popular transgenic plant, thought to be harmless to
nonpest insects, produces a wind-borne pollen that can kill monarch
butterflies -- a species that claims the corn belt as the heart of its
breeding range.

Researchers said that the laboratory study, conducted by a team from
Cornell University, provides the first evidence that pollen from a
transgenic plant can be harmful to non-pest species. As such, the study is
likely to become part of the growing debate about whether genetically
engineered crops may have unforeseen effects on the environment.
____________________________________________________

Front Page of Wall Street Journal
Thursday, May 20, 1999

What's News -- World Wide

MONARCH BUTTERFLIES CAN BE POISONED by pollen from corn genetically
engineered to resist insects, Cornell University research found. The study
is likely to provide ammunition to environmental groups, but Monsanto,
Novartis, and Pioneer Hi-Bred want more investigation.

(Article continues -- page B2)

................

Gene-Altered Corn May Kill Monarchs
By Rick Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 20, 1999; Page A3

A popular new variety of corn plant that has been genetically modified to
resist insect pests may also be taking a toll on the monarch butterfly, one
of the most beloved insects in the United States, new research suggests.

The gene-altered corn, which exudes a poison fatal to corn-boring
caterpillars, was introduced in 1996 and now accounts for more than
one-quarter of the nation's corn crop --much of it in the path of the
monarch's annual migration.

Pollen from the plants can blow onto nearby milkweed plants, the exclusive
food upon which monarch larvae feed, and get eaten by the tiger-striped
caterpillars. In laboratory studies at Cornell University, the engineered
pollen killed nearly half of those young before they transformed into the
brilliant orange, black and white butterflies so well known throughout
North America.

Several scientists expressed concern yesterday that if the new study's
results are correct, then monarchs -- which already face ecological
pressures but have so far managed to hold their own -- may soon find
themselves on the endangered species list. Other butterflies also may be at
risk.

............

GE article on MSNBC -- May 19, 1999
Study: Genetic corn kills butterflies
More tests coming, but potential impact enormous

May 19 - A study released Wednesday suggests the seeds for serious
ecological damage across the United States might have been planted with the
introduction four years ago of a genetically engineered corn plant. Corn
growers disputed the broad implications of the study, which found that in
lab tests nearly half of the Monarch caterpillars exposed to pollen from
the plants died within four days.

'We don't know how broad this effect will be on butterflies and how large a
dose of pollen they need to get to be affected ... we'll be looking at how
different doses of pollen affect mortality.'
- LINDA RAYOR Cornell entomologist

WHEN THE U.S. government approved the plant four years ago, the promise was
extraordinary: The new corn produced a natural toxin that killed the
European corn borer, responsible for $1.2 billion in crop damage each year.
Farmers hoped the breakthrough would increase yields and make pesticides
obsolete.

Years of field tests showed the corn to be safe for humans, honey bees and
other "friendly" insects. No harmful side effects were reported.

But a study by Cornell University scientists found that pollen released
from the plants, known as "Bt-corn," can kill larvae from the monarch
butterfly, a species known for its beauty and long migration between Mexico
and the United States.

"We need to look at the big picture here," said John Losey, a Cornell
entomologist and the primary investigator in the study. "Pollen from
Bt-corn could represent a serious risk to populations of monarchs and other
butterflies, but we can't predict how serious the risk is until we have a
lot more data. And we can't forget that Bt-corn and other transgenic crops
have a huge potential for reducing pesticide use and increasing yields.
This study is just the first step. We need to do more research and then
objectively weigh the risks vs. the benefits of this new technology."

DEBATE AHEAD

Further tests are necessary, among them replicating the lab test in the
field, but the Cornell entomologists say the problem could be widespread:
Other species of butterflies and moths may be harmed by the hybrid corn
pollen, and that could in turn affect entire ecosystems.

The study, published in the journal Nature, will likely set off a firestorm
of debate about Bt-corn, which was planted on 7 million acres last year and
which is considered among the first major successes of agricultural
biotechnology.

Cornell entomologist Linda Rayor, a study co-author, called the monarch
butterfly discovery a "warning bell" from a flagship species for
conservation. Wall Street Journal
Thursday, May 20, 1999

What's News -- World Wide
.............
...

THOSE CONCERNED

Among those alarmed by the study is the Union of Concerned Scientists, an
independent nonprofit alliance of scientists based in Cambridge, Mass., who
want more intensive testing of genetically engineered crops.

"To put it simply, we're not surprised," said Jane Rissler, a UCS plant
pathologist. "We're dismayed. This should help people understand that
genetically engineered crops bring with them risks that have not been
properly raised or studied."

Rissler said the Cornell discovery is likely the first case of a
genetically altered plant proving fatal to a non-targeted or "friendly"
insect.

But it is not the first time scientists found possible unintended
consequences of genetic engineering: A Swiss study last year found
insects called lacewings died more quickly if they fed on corn borers
reared on Bt corn.

A University of Chicago study published in September found that a weed
altered by scientists to resist an herbicide developed a far greater
ability to pollinate other plants and pass on its traits. The findings
raised fears that genetic engineering could lead to the rise of
"superweeds" impervious to weedkillers.

In Scotland, a toxicologist who added insect-resistant genes and proteins
to potatoes and fed them to rats reported that the animals suffered damaged
immune systems, growth problems and shrunken brains. But his findings were
sharply disputed by other scientists.

TECHNICAL BACKGROUND

The hybrid corn produces a natural bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis, and
thus is commonly known as Bt-corn.

The Bt-corn toxin thwarts the European corn borer, a moth species that came
over to the United States in the early 1900s. The pest's larvae typically
bore into stalks and eat their way through the plant, destroying about 40
million tons of corn each year. Pesticides are not very effective because
the larvae live deep in the stalks.

At least 18 Bt-engineered crops have been approved for field testing in the
United States. And the Department of Agriculture, which allows transformed
corn, potatoes and cotton to be produced commercially, said it was
convinced the crops had no negative effects on friendly insects such as
bees and ladybugs.

WHAT EARLIER STUDIES MISSED

But until the Cornell study nobody had looked for any risk posed by the
spread of the corn's pollen to other plants or the effect it would have on
insects feeding on those plants, said Rayor, the Cornell insect behavioral
ecologist.

"People weren't really thinking about the toxin flying around and how it
affects insects feeding on their own host plants," Rayor said.

Scientists previously conducted tests to make sure the Bt-corn would not
harm "beneficial predators" that eat pests such as the European corn borer.
But those studies didn't examine the non-targeted insects that feed on
plants near cornfields, Rayor said.

Inside the laboratory, monarch larvae were fed milkweed leaves dusted with
the transformed pollen from Bt-corn, leaves dusted with pollen from
nontransformed corn, and leaves without corn pollen. Milkweed, which
Monarch larvae feed on exclusively, is commonly found alongside cornfields.

The result: The monarch larvae that ate the transformed pollen ate less,
grew at a slower rate and died faster. Nearly half of the larvae fed the
Bt-corn pollen died in the study. All of the other monarch caterpillars
survived the study.

SUMMER TESTS

Rayor and colleagues plan to conduct more research on the Bt-corn pollen
this summer using colonies of painted-ladies and buckeye butterflies.

"We're willing to believe it affects other species of butterflies," Rayor
said. "No doubt there are dozens of other innocent victims feeding on weedy
species that happen to be near corn."

Until more tests are done, however, the scientists say they don't know if
the fatal consequences occur outside the laboratory.

"We don't know how broad this effect will be on butterflies and how large a
dose of pollen they need to get to be affected," Rayor said. "This summer
we'll be looking at how different doses of pollen affect mortality."

Newhouse News Service's Mark Weiner and The Associated Press contributed to
this report.

.........

Report from the BBC on new research on the effects (bad!!!) of GM pollen on
Butterflys.

Wednesday, May 19, 1999 Published at 19:00 GMT 20:00 UK
Sci/Tech

GM pollen 'can kill butterflies'

The monarch caterpillars feed on the milkweed plant

By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

Pollen from one of the most successful genetically-modified (GM) crops in
the US can kill the larvae of monarch butterflies, scientists say.

Their study, published in the journal Nature, shows how the new GM
technology might have unwanted consequences for biodiversity.

The Cornell University researchers say their results "have potentially
profound implications for the conservation of monarch butterflies" and
believe more research on the environmental risks of biotechnology in
agriculture is essential.

Their experiments looked at Bt-corn which has been modified to
incorporate a gene from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt).

This makes the plant tissue toxic to the European corn borer, a significant
pest that hides in the stalks of the plant, making it difficult to control
with chemical sprays.

Although the Bt-corn plant itself is harmless to humans and other creatures
such as ladybirds and bees, the researchers found pollen from the GM crop
could have a lethal effect on the larvae of monarch butterflies if it lands
on the plant on which they feed - milkweed.

This is commonly found around cornfields and is the exclusive food of
monarch caterpillars.

Dead caterpillars

In the laboratory, Monarch caterpillars fed on milkweed leaves dusted with
Bt-corn pollen ate less, grew more slowly and suffered a higher mortality
rate than those fed on leaves with normal pollen, or with no pollen at all.

Nearly half of the GM pollen-fed caterpillars died, while all the rest
survived the study.

The scientists say the GM pollen enters the caterpillar's gut, where it
binds to specific sites. The gut wall then changes from a protective layer
to an open sieve, allowing pathogens normally contained in the gut and then
excreted to enter the insect's body.

Last year more than seven million acres of Bt-corn were planted in the US.
Before its development, borers used to cause an average annual loss of
$1.2bn.

The technology offers significant potential for reducing pesticide use and
increasing yields. Any negative effects therefore need to be balanced
against these benefits, says Assistant Professor of Entomology John Losey,
the lead researcher on the Nature paper.

"We need to assess the risks from this Bt pollen and then balance those
with the proven benefits and then decide, objectively, what is better for
the environment," he told the BBC.

"We want to look at the plants that are common around cornfields and the
different butterflies whose caterpillars would feed on those plants. By
putting those together, we can start to get a sense of what the total
impact of this pollen might be."

Novartis Seeds were the first biotechnology company to sell Bt-corn and
their products are now grown commercially in the US, Canada, Argentina and
Spain.

"This study does not give any basis for a change in our marketing of
Bt-corn," their spokesperson Sheena Bethell told BBC News Online.

"Bt-corn has been extensively studied and we already have several years of
growing experience in the US - one lab experiment does not change that. We
follow and exceed all the requirements made by regulatory authorities which
are very rigorous.

"Even if there are unwanted effects on the Monarch butterfly, you still
have to put that into the context of comparison with other forms of
control."

However, English Nature, the UK Government's wildlife advisor is using the
publication of the report to renew its call for a delay in the commercial
planting of insect-resistant crops in Britain.

"This new research confirms the views put forward by English Nature last
year that there are serious concerns about the commercial introduction of
GM crops before research has been done on their potential effects on
biodiversity," it says.

** NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is
distributed for research and educational purposes only. **
_________________________________________________________
Richard Wolfson, PhD
Consumer Right to Know Campaign,
for Mandatory Labelling and Long-term
Testing of all Genetically Engineered Foods,
500 Wilbrod Street
Ottawa, ON Canada K1N 6N2
tel. 613-565-8517 fax. 613-565-1596
email: rwolfson@concentric.net

Our website, http://www.natural-law.ca/genetic
contains more information on genetic engineering as well as previous
genetic engineering news items. Subscription fee to genetic engineering
news is $35 for 12 months, payable to "BanGEF" and mailed to the above
address. Or see website for details.
__________________________________________________________
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