The efficacy of Cry1Ac Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) cotton plants against field populations of Helicoverpa armigera (Hübner) has been inconsistent over the growing season. Any reduction in efficacy (where efficacy is the capacity of the plant to affect the survival of the insect) increases the opportunities for H. armigera to evolve resistance to Bt toxin. Changes in efficacy could be due to changes at the level of gene expression and/or in the physiological makeup of the plant and may be induced by environmental conditions. Two environmental factors, temperature and insect damage, were investigated. Temperature was found to affect efficacy, whether plants were grown at different temperatures continuously or were exposed to a change in temperature for a short period. Damage caused by chewing insects (H. armigera larvae) produced a dramatic increase in the efficacy of presquare Bt cotton. In contrast, damage by sucking insects (aphids) did not induce changes in efficacy. Changes in efficacy seemed to be mediated through modification of the physiological background of the plant rather than changes in the level of cry1Ac expression or in the concentration of the Bt toxin. The impact of the non-Bt responses of plants on strains of H. armigera should be evaluated. It is possible that by enhancing existing defensive mechanisms of plants, the rate of evolution of resistance to Bt toxins could be retarded by increasing the plants overall toxicity through the additive effects of the toxins and plant defenses.
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Vol. 98 • No. 4