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Neither transgenic Bt maize (MON863) nor tefluthrin insecticide adversely affect soil microbial activity or biomass: A 3-year field analysis

Soil Biology and Biochemistry
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/j.soilbio.2007.03.004
  • Bt Corn
  • Bt Maize
  • Cry3Bb
  • Microbial Biomass
  • Mon863
  • N Mineralization Potential
  • Short-Term Nitrification
  • Soil Microbial Community
  • Soil Respiration
  • Transgenic Crops
  • Biology
  • Ecology


Abstract Laboratory and greenhouse studies on transgenic Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) maize have drawn attention to the persistence and activity of the Cry proteins in soil and their potential effects on soil microorganisms, but there have been few field assessments that evaluate the effects of Bt maize with those of insecticides on soil microbial populations. This study was conducted to determine the effects of Cry3Bb Bt maize with those of the insecticide tefluthrin on soil microbial biomass and activity in the field over a 3-year cropping cycle. The recently commercialized maize variety YieldGard ® Rootworm (MON863), which produces the Cry3Bb protein, was grown along with a non-Bt isoline with and without tefluthrin applied at planting. Microbial biomass, nitrogen (N) mineralization potential, short-term nitrification rate, and respiration rate were measured in rhizosphere and bulk soil samples collected from three replicate field plots just before planting, at anthesis, and at harvest in each year. There were clear seasonal effects on microbial biomass and activity in the field soils—as represented by the consistent changes in all measured variables across years and sampling times. Differences in the measured variables were also sometimes observed between bulk and rhizosphere soil. However, there were no adverse effects of either the Bt or non-Bt maize with insecticide applied compared to the non-Bt controls; on the contrary, microbial biomass and soil respiration data suggested a stimulatory effect of the Bt genotype, particularly in comparison to the non-Bt isoline. Although ‘higher’ does not necessarily mean ‘better’, the higher microbial biomass and respiration rates observed in the Bt and insecticide-applied soils compared to non-Bt soils does allay concerns that either the Bt protein or the tefluthrin typically used to control the corn rootworm reduce microbial biomass or its respiratory activity in field soils. Similarly, the higher N mineralization potential and nitrification rates observed in some soil samples from the Bt and tefluthrin-treated plots indicate higher activity of N-mineralizing microorganisms, a potentially positive consequence as both ammonium and nitrate are effective N sources for maize during grain filling. Our data suggest that cropping MON863 Bt maize is unlikely to adversely affect soil ecology in the short term. Longer-term monitoring of transgenic cropping systems should assure that the biotic functioning of the soil is maintained as a part of studies on overall ecosystem integrity.

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