> >From List: Biotech Activists (firstname.lastname@example.org)
> Date Posted: 12/16/1999
> Posted by: email@example.com
> NEWS 18/12/99
> This week's stories
> from New Scientist
> available online.
> Keep that spray
> Crops made resistant to pests still do
> better with chemicals
> FARMERS may need to douse their fields
> with yet more pesticides to
> get the best out of genetically modified
> plants. At least, that's the
> implication of patent applications filed
> by Novartis of Basle in Switzerland,
> one of the leading companies in the field.
> The applications (WO 99/35910 and WO
> 99/35913) were filed after
> scientists at Novartis realised that a
> wide spectrum of insect pests was
> attacking Bt maize, its major GM crop.
> Genes inserted into the maize
> enable it to make the Bt toxin, a
> bacterial protein that kills European corn
> borer larvae. These larvae chew their way
> into the stems of young maize
> plants and can kill them before they get
> But many GM plants that saw off the borer
> larvae were later attacked by
> sap-sucking insects. "Bt toxin has a
> rather narrow spectrum of activity, so
> you don't get control of all pests," says
> Walter Smolders, head of patents
> at Novartis Seeds.
> To find a way round the problem, Novartis
> scientists tried applying
> different combinations of the company's
> pesticides to the Bt maize. Their
> patents identify combinations of
> pesticides that could raise yields of the
> maize by 20 per cent.
> The same pesticides appear to increase the
> yields of other GM plants,
> including those engineered to resist the
> effects of herbicides. So
> Novartis has extended its patents to cover
> use of the pesticides on a
> long list of transgenic crops including
> maize, cereals, soya beans,
> potatoes, rice, cotton and mustard. If the
> patents are granted, this means
> they will also apply to crops from
> competitors such as Monsanto of St
> Louis, Missouri.
> Heinz Hammann, head of patents in
> Novartis's crop protection division,
> claims the pesticides mentioned in the
> patents are mostly
> environmentally benign, killing only the
> pests which attack the plants.
> Maize, for example, is vulnerable to
> sapsuckers such as the flea beetle
> (Phyllotreta agriotes) and various aphids.
> "Non-target species don't
> suck the plants, so they're not harmed,"
> he says.
> But some of the pesticides are less
> friendly. Carbamates, for example, act
> on the nervous system of pests and are
> known to affect birds, fish, game,
> bees, mammals and other farmland wildlife.
> And given that agribiotech
> firms have consistently argued that GM
> crops will reduce pesticide use,
> Novartis's patent applications are sure to
> be seized upon by groups that
> oppose the technology.
> Brian Johnson, head of the biotechnology
> advisory unit at English
> Nature, a conservation watchdog, says he
> wants to see evidence
> confirming Novartis's suggestion that the
> use of pesticides on GM crops
> outlined in its patent applications will
> be less environmentally damaging
> than conventional chemical treatment of
> ordinary maize. "It's the impact of
> the whole process on biodiversity that
> counts," he says. "But the impacts
> of what they are proposing are not known.."
> Andy Coghlan and Barry Fox
> From New Scientist, 18
> December 1999
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