Friday, February 1, 2008

Bacillus Thuringiensis

Stephanie Hoppe
C & C: Bioethics
January 23, 2008
On a sunny day in August, 15 year old Sarah unexplainably collapsed on the field at her soccer game. Six months later she was severely sick, weighing less than 100 pounds at a height of five feet ten inches tall. She had difficulties breathing and her skin was a pale grey color. A doctor finally recognized her sickness as chemical poisoning from pesticides being sprayed on the cotton fields surrounding her soccer field.
For years pesticides have been invading our streams, rivers, groundwater, and rainwater. Most communities get their water from sources such as these which, in turn, mean these communities are ingesting pesticides every time they use this water. They drink this water. They cook with this water. They shower in this water. Sounds healthy, doesn’t it?
Are the benefits of pesticides worth the risks? The answer is, no. How will farmers save their crops without harming the environment? The answer to that is simple, Bacillus Thuringiensis.
What is Bacillus Thuringiensis? Bacillus Thuringiensis better known as Bt is a bacteria naturally found in soil that are fatal to insects when a toxic protein breaks down in the digestive system. The toxin works by paralyzing the digestive system. This results in death after a few days, says researchers at Iowa State University. (Iowa State University, 2003)
Scientist have found a way to genetically engineer Bt into many crops. This is just one way genetic engineering has been found beneficial to the world of agriculture.
Bt and Roundup Ready engineering have been integrated into many different types of crops including: corn, soybeans, alfalfa, and hay to name a few. Roundup Ready sugar beets will be widely available for the first time this year. Environmental scientists also hope more genetically modified types of sugarcane will be used in agriculture, and less relying on chemicals, reports an article published in Farm World. (Walker 2008)
There are many other benefits of Bt crops including no-till farming. No-till farming means no soil erosion or nutrient loss. Soil erosion makes it impossible for crops to grow on this land by washing away valuable nutrient-rich top soil.
As published in the West Virginia Farm Bureau News, genetic engineered plants could make crops more tolerable to adverse environment conditions. The crops would be able to withstand drought, cold, and many other otherwise intolerable conditions. Genetically engineered crops have obvious benefits to farmers, but may also provide a cheaper more nutritious product to consumers.
While there is so much more to be discovered about Bt crops and the advantages they pose to agriculture and genetic engineering. There is already great progress due to these crops and much more to come.

Chandran, Rakesh S. (2001) “Genetic Engineering- Part 2: Pros and cons of genetically engineering crops.” West Virginia Farm Bureau News. February 2001.
Bacillus Thuringiensis- Sharing Its Natural Talent With Crops. February 26, 2003. P. 7-9.
Walker, Kevin. “Roundup Ready Sugar Beets Will Be Available in ’08.” Farm World. January 2, 2008.
Avasthi , Amitabh. “Pest-Resistant Crops Better Than Insecticide Use.” National Geographic News. June 7, 2007.