The efficacy of nontransgenic sweet corn, Zea mays L., hybrids cross-pollinated by Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) sweet corn hybrids expressing Cry1Ab toxin was evaluated in both field and laboratory studies in Minnesota in 2000. Non-Bt and Bt hybrids (maternal plants) were cross-pollinated with pollen from both non-Bt and Bt hybrids (paternal plants) to create four crosses. Subsequent crosses were evaluated for efficacy in the field against European corn borer, Ostrinia nubilalis (Hübner), and corn earworm, Helicoverpa zea (Boddie), and in laboratory bioassays against O. nubilalis. Field studies indicated that crosses with maternal Bt plants led to low levels of survival for both O. nubilalis and H. zea compared with the non-Bt × non-Bt cross. However, the cross between non-Bt ears and Bt pollen led to survival rates of 43 and 63% for O. nubilalis and H. zea larvae, respectively. This intermediate level of survival also was reflected in the number of kernels damaged. Laboratory bioassays for O. nubilalis, further confirmed field results with larval survival on kernels from the cross between non-Bt ears and Bt pollen reaching 60% compared with non-Bt crossed with non-Bt. These results suggest that non-Bt refuge plants, when planted in proximity to Bt plants, and cross-pollinated, can result in sublethal exposure of O. nubilalis and H. zea larvae to Bt and may undermine the high-dose / refuge resistance management strategy for corn hybrids expressing Cry1Ab.
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