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A Peruvian alternative to Bt corn

(April 16, 2001 --Cropchoice news) -- Here's a revised version of a recent Cropchoice story about an alternative to Bt corn. It's a Peruvian germ plasm -- GEMS 0001 -- that naturally deters European corn borer, which annually damages $1 billion worth of U.S. corn.

Varieties with the germ plasm could offer farmers an alternative to pesticides and transgenic varieties. They wouldn't have to plant refuge corn, worry about borers developing resistance to the natural toxin, or pay technology licensing fees.

GEMS-0001 originated in northern Peru, said Craig Abel, a scientist with the Agricultural Research Service. Indigenous farmers probably selected corn with the germ plasm because of its resistance to the sugarcane borer, which feeds on both corn and sugarcane.

Rather than killing the borers, the germ plasm contains a chemical that slows larval development. Corn borer larvae normally feed on leaf tissue before boring into the stalk. With the Peruvian germ plasm, few of them move into the stalk.

Of the 1,600 corn germ-plasm lines that Abel evaluated in 1991 and 1992, 11 had ECB resistance. USDA researchers bred the GEMS-0001 resistance into two public lines from Iowa State University. They've released GEMS-0001 for seed companies to use in their breeding programs. However, commercial corn with the germ plasm won't be available for several years, until scientists insert it into hybrids with no yield drag.

"We did show that traits from tropical corn can be successfully integrated into US Corn Belt adapted lines without yield drag as evidenced by one testcross involving GEMS-0001 yielding 105.3 percent of the commercial check average in a five location yield trial that was done in 1996 with the USDA - ARS Germplasm Enhancement for Maize Project in cooperation with various private seed companies," Abel wrote. "We will have three additional corn borer resistant lines released this year who's testcross yields were not significantly less than the commercial check average."

For more information about the Peruvian GEMS-0001, contact:
Craig Abel at the Southern Insect Management Research Unit
Dept. FIN, 141 Experiment Station Rd.
Stoneville, MS 38776
662/686-5248 or circle 211.