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Field-Evolved Insect Resistance to Bt Crops: Definition, Theory, and Data

Bruce E. Tabashnik, J.B.J. Van Rensburg, Yves Carrière
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1603/029.102.0601 2011-2025 First published online: 1 December 2009


Transgenic crops producing Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxins for insect pest control have been successful, but their efficacy is reduced when pests evolve resistance. Here we review the definition of field-evolved resistance, the relationship between resistance and field control problems, the theory underlying strategies for delaying resistance, and resistance monitoring methods. We also analyze resistance monitoring data from five continents reported in 41 studies that evaluate responses of field populations of 11 lepidopteran pests to four Bt toxins produced by Bt corn and cotton. After more than a decade since initial commercialization of Bt crops, most target pest populations remain susceptible, whereas field-evolved resistance has been documented in some populations of three noctuid moth species: Spodoptera frugiperda (J. E. Smith) to Cry1F in Bt corn in Puerto Rico, Busseola fusca (Fuller) to Cry1Ab in Bt corn in South Africa, and Helicoverpa zea (Boddie) to Cry1Ac and Cry2Ab in Bt cotton in the southeastern United States. Field outcomes are consistent with predictions from theory, suggesting that factors delaying resistance include recessive inheritance of resistance, abundant refuges of non-Bt host plants, and two-toxin Bt crops deployed separately from one-toxin Bt crops. The insights gained from systematic analyses of resistance monitoring data may help to enhance the durability of transgenic insecticidal crops. We recommend continued use of the long-standing definition of resistance cited here and encourage discussions about which regulatory actions, if any, should be triggered by specific data on the magnitude, distribution, and impact of field-evolved resistance.

  • resistance
  • genetically engineered crops
  • transgenic crops
  • Bacillus thuringiensis
  • evolution