Uptake of Bt endotoxins by nontarget herbivores and higher order arthropod predators: molecular evidence from a transgenic corn agroecosystem


James D. Harwood, Fax: 001 859 323 1120; E-mail: james.harwood@uky.edu


The planting of transgenic crops expressing Bacillus thuringiensis endotoxins is widespread throughout the world; the prolific increase in their application exposes nontarget organisms to toxins designed to control pests. To date, studies have focused upon the effects of Bt endotoxins on specific herbivores and detritivores, without consideration of their persistence within arthropod food webs. Here, we report the first quantitative field evaluation of levels of Bt endotoxin within nontarget herbivores and the uptake by higher order arthropods. Antibody-based assays indicated significant quantities of detectable Cry1Ab endotoxin within nontarget herbivores which feed on transgenic corn (including the corn flea beetle, Chaetocnema pulicaria, Japanese beetle, Popillia japonica and southern corn rootworm, Diabrotica undecimpunctata howardi). Furthermore, arthropod predators (Coccinellidae, Araneae, and Nabidae) collected from these agroecosystems also contained significant quantities of Cry1Ab endotoxin indicating its movement into higher trophic levels. This uptake by predators is likely to have occurred by direct feeding on plant material (in predators which are facultatively phytophagous) or the consumption of arthropod prey which contained these proteins. These data indicate that long-term exposure to insecticidal toxins occurs in the field. These levels of exposure should therefore be considered during future risk assessments of transgenic crops to nontarget herbivores and arthropod predators.