- HALF MOON BAY, California, October
24, 1997 -- Some ladybugs in Scotland
have become very important this week because they may be the first proof
that non-target species can be harmed by transgenic crops.Transgenic bio-engineering
involves inserting genes into one species from another in order to gain
- Ladybugs -- or "ladybirds"
if you are European -- have always been considered friendly insects in
the garden and on the farm. They eat many insects that are harmful to crops
and flowers. Ladybugs are part of the natural system.
- The lifespan of ladybugs was reduced
to half when they ate aphids that had fed on genetically altered potatoes
in Scotland, according to a London Times article (10/22/97) by Science
Editor, Nigel Hawkes. The ladybugs also laid fewer eggs.
- Fears of genetic engineering critics
were fanned by the news that ladybugs were damaged by eating insects feeding
on altered potatoes.
- Among the critics' concerns are: that
non-target organisms may be affected by pesticide genes put into plants;
that beneficial insects might be harmed; that unknown consequences may
occur; and that ecosystems may be damaged.
- Richard Wolfson, Ph.D., of Ottawa, Ontario,
Canada, says that genetically engineered potatoes and corn produce their
own pesticide. These vegetables, now on the market, contain a bacterial
gene normally found in soil, called "bacillus thuringiensis,"
or Bt. In altered potatoes and corn, Bt creates a toxin in the plant itself
to kill insects.
- Agronomists are concerned that by making
Bt an integral part of plants, the evolution of Bt resistant insects will
speed up enormously. When used alone, as it occurs in nature, Bt is considered
among the safest insect controllers.
- The effects on humans of eating altered
crops which contain Bt is unknown. The companies which have pioneered in
inserting foreign genes into plants have successfully made the claim to
regulatory agencies that the food plants are substantially equivalent to
unaltered ones. The companies have been able to fast track their products
to market, bypassing lengthy safety testing.
- Scientists in Scotland now urge caution
in the introduction of genetically modified crops after discovering that
they could harm ladybugs. Nick Birch and a team from the Scottish Crop
Research Institute in Dundee are responsible for discovering the reduced
fertility and lifespan of the ladybugs.
- The potato plant in question had been
altered to produce a natural insecticide that deterred aphids from eating
them. Non-potato genetic material is inserted into potatoes. While this
did indeed discourage aphids, the reduction was not complete. The number
of aphids on the potatoes was reduced by only 50% so that ladybugs were
needed to eat the remaining aphids.
- With the large number of transgentic
crops being planted in the U.S. and the rest of the world, many unforseen
consequences may be released. In the annual report of the Institute, the
team that worked on the ladybug research said the deleterious effects on
the ladybugs suggested that genetically altered crops could have unexpected
LADYBUG, QUICKLY FLY AWAY HOME!
- By Claire Gilbert, Ph.D.
- HALF MOON BAY, California, October 27,
1997 -- I called the Scottish Crop Research Institute in Dundee, Scotland,
and got more of the story. Nick Birch, the researcher named in the London
Times article, was not in his office at the time of my phone call. I spoke
with an entomologist, Stuart Gordon, who shares an office with Birch.
- The potatoes that adversely affected
the ladybugs/ladybirds were transgenic. Genes from snowdrop lectin had
been inserted in them. Gordon did not know the name of the poison, however.
He was not directly involved in that project.
- Birch, et al., plan to publish their
research according to Gordon.
- How did it get in the London Times? The
Annual Report of the Institude describes research projects conducted. The
London Times picked up the story from the annual report.
- Gordon is passing a message on to Birch
to send me the report. It has more information than Gordon, himself, could