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Corn Pests Numbers Low, As Researcher Works To Eradicate Them

Fangneng Huang is an entomologist at LSU AgCenter, studying how insects become resistant to Bt corn. Bt corn is corn that has been genetically modified to contain Bacillus thuringiensis proteins, which are toxic to caterpillar pests such as corn borers and armyworms. This allows for the plants to kill the pests directly without the use of chemicals. 76% of corn grown in the United States in 2013 contains the Bt proteins.

Farmers in the United States have planted Bt corn varities since the 1990s to biologically control pests. They have been successful, being able to stay ahead of their ability to develop resistance against the proteins. The corn pests populations have been low, however, maintaining that low population is a challenge.

The Bt corn kills most pests but leaves behind a few that are resistant to the Bt proteins. When the remaining insects reproduce, they are able to produce a population that is resistant to the Bt proteins. Huang has been researching ways to delay the development of the resistance so that Bt corn can remain an effective pest control tool.