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University of Arizona gets fund to study GM cotton
30
Sep '11
The office of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is welcoming a grant of nearly $500,000 that was awarded to the University of Arizona for research into genetically modified cotton.

“The University of Arizona has a nationally recognized expertise in agriculture research,” said Pia Carusone, chief of staff to Giffords. “Pima cotton was developed and perfected by UA researchers and they continue to be at the forefront of important national agricultural studies.”

The UA grant of $499,909 will fund a study by a team of scientists in the Department of Entomology of the risks associated with genetically modified Bt cotton that is protected against some key insect pests. The grant was one of eight awarded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for studies of the risks associated with genetically engineered plants.

Bruce E. Tabashnik, head of the UA Department of Entomology and part of the research team, said Bt cotton was commercialized 15 years ago. It has been engineered to produce bacterial proteins that kill key insect pests but are harmless to people and most other organisms. “The concept is to reduce the use of insecticide sprays that can harm people and the environment,” Tabashnik said.

Bt cotton now represents about 65 percent of all cotton grown in the United States. But over time, pests may evolve resistance to the toxin in Bt cotton, Tabashnik said. To delay that resistance, some Bt crops produce two or more distinct toxins that are active against the same pest – an approach called a “pyramid.”

“We need to better understand how some characteristics of pyramids affect the evolution of resistance,” said Yves Carrière, a professor of entomology and the project's principal investigator.

The study, which will be conducted at UA, will develop and test strategies to delay evolution of resistance by the pests, Carrière said. If the pests were to eventually become fully resistant, the current Bt technology would be of no use.

“All types of agriculture – conventional, organic and genetically engineered – play important roles in our agricultural system,” said Chavonda Jacobs-Young, acting director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. “These grants will help inform sound, science-based decisions.”

Other research grants will study pollen flow in perennial grasses intended for biofuel use and examine the flow of pollen between genetically-engineered alfalfa and conventional and organic varieties.

U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords

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