Detailed Study on BT Cotton



BT cotton

Cotton and other monocultured crops require an intensive use of pesticides as various types of pests attack these crops causing extensive damage. Over the past 40 years, many pests have developed resistance to pesticides.

cSo far, the only successful approach to engineering crops for insect tolerance has been the addition of Bt toxin, a family of toxins originally derived from soil bacteria. The Bt toxin contained by the Bt crops is no different from other chemical pesticides, but causes much less damage to the environment. These toxins are effective against a variety of economically important crop pests but pose no hazard to non-target organisms like mammals and fish. Three Bt crops are now commercially available: corn, cotton, and potato.

As of now, cotton is the most popular of the Bt crops: it was planted on about 1.8 million acres (728437 ha) in 1996 and 1997. The Bt gene was isolated and transferred from a bacterium bacillus thurigiensis to American cotton. The American cotton was subsequently crossed with Indian cotton to introduce the gene into native varieties.

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The Bt cotton variety contains a foreign gene obtained from bacillus thuringiensis. This bacterial gene, introduced genetically into the cotton seeds, protects the plants from bollworm (A. lepidoptora), a major pest of cotton. The worm feeding on the leaves of a BT cotton plant becomes lethargic and sleepy, thereby causing less damage to the plant

Cotton is a soft, staple fiber that grows around the seeds of the cotton plant, a shrub native to tropical and subtropical regions around the world, including the Americas, India and Africa. The fiber most often is spun into yarn or thread and used to make a soft, breathable textile, which is the most widely used natural-fiber cloth in clothing today. It is a natural fibre. The English name, which began to be used circa 1400, derives from the Arabic meaning cotton. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, In the Southern United States, cotton was known as "King Cotton" because of the great economic and cultural influence it had there.

Cotton has been spun, woven, and dyed since prehistoric times. It clothed the people of ancient India, Egypt, and China. Hundreds of years before the Christian era cotton textiles were woven in India with matchless skill, and their use spread to the Mediterranean countries. In the 1st cent. Arab traders brought fine muslin and calico to Italy and Spain. The Moors introduced the cultivation of cotton into Spain in the 9th cent. Fustians and dimities were woven there and in the 14th cent. in Venice and Milan, at first with a linen warp. Little cotton cloth was imported to England before the 15th cent., although small amounts were obtained chiefly for candlewicks. By the 17th cent. the East India Company was bringing rare fabrics from India. Native Americans skillfully spun and wove cotton into fine garments and dyed tapestries. Cotton fabrics found in Peruvian tombs are said to belong to a pre-Inca culture. In color and texture the ancient Peruvian and Mexican textiles resemble those found in Egyptian tombs.

Field trials have n that farmers who grew the Bt variety obtained 25%-75% more cotton than those who grew the normal variety. Also, Bt cotton requires only two sprays of chemical pesticide against eight sprays for normal variety. According to the director general of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, India uses about half of its pesticides on cotton to fight the bollworm menace.

Organic cotton

Organic cotton is cotton that is grown without insecticide or pesticide. Worldwide, cotton is a pesticide-intensive crop, using approximately 25% of the world's insecticides and 10% of the world's pesticides.Organic agriculture uses methods that are ecological, economical, and socially sustainable and denies the use of agrochemicals and artificial fertilizers. Instead, organic agriculture uses crop rotation, the growing of different crops than cotton in alternative years. The use of insecticides is prohibited; organic agriculture uses natural enemies to suppress harmful insects. The production of organic cotton is more expensive than the production of conventional cotton. Although toxic pollution from synthetic chemicals is eliminated, other pollution-like problems may remain, particularly run-off. Organic cotton is produced in organic agricultural systems that produce food and fiber according to clearly established standards. Organic agriculture prohibits the use of toxic and persistent chemical pesticides and fertilizers, as well as genetically modified organisms. It seeks to build biologically diverse agricultural systems, replenish and maintain soil fertility, and promote a healthy environment.

Bacillus thuringiensis

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Bacillus thuringiensis is a Gram-positive, soil-dwelling bacterium of the genus Bacillus. Additionally, B. thuringiensis also occurs naturally in the gut of caterpillars of various types of moths and butterflies, as well as on the dark surface of plants.[1]

B. thuringiensis was discovered 1901 in Japan by Ishiwata and 1911 in Germany by Ernst Berliner, who discovered a disease called Schlaffsucht in flour moth caterpillars. B. thuringiensis is closely related to B. cereus, a soil bacterium, and B. anthracis, the cause of anthrax: the three organisms differ mainly in their plasmids. Like other members of the genus, all three are aerobes capable of producing endospores.[1]

Upon sporulation, B. thuringiensis forms crystals of proteinaceous insecticidal δ-endotoxins (Cry toxins) which are encoded by cry genes.[2] Cry toxins have specific activities against species of the orders Lepidoptera (Moths and Butterflies), Diptera (Flies and Mosquitoes) and Coleoptera (Beetles). Thus, B. thuringiensis serves as an important reservoir of Cry toxins and cry genes for production of biological insecticides and insect-resistant genetically modified crops. When insects ingest toxin crystals the alkaline pH of their digestive tract causes the toxin to become activated. It becomes inserted into the insect's gut cell membranes forming a pore resulting in swelling, cell lysis and eventually killing the insect.

Genetically modified cotton

Genetically modified (GM) cotton was developed to reduce the heavy reliance on pesticides. The bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis naturally produces a chemical harmful only to a small fraction of insects, most notably the larvae of moths and butterflies, beetles, and flies, and harmless to other forms of life. The gene coding for BT toxin has been inserted into cotton, causing cotton to produce this natural insecticide in its tissues. In many regions the main pests in commercial cotton are lepidopteran larvae, which are killed by the BT protein in the transgenic cotton that they eat. This eliminates the need to use large amounts of broad-spectrum insecticides to kill lepidopteran pests (some of which have developed pyrethroid resistance). This spares natural insect predators in the farm ecology and further contributes to non-insecticide pest management.

BT cotton is ineffective against many cotton pests, however, such as plant bugs, stink bugs, aphids, etc.; depending on circumstances it may still be desirable to use insecticides against these.

Genetically modified cotton is widely used throughout the world. However, researchers have recently published the first documented case of in-field pest resistance to GM cotton. The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) said that, worldwide, GM cotton was planted on an area of 67,000 km² in 2002. This is 20% of the worldwide total area planted in cotton. The U.S. cotton crop was 73% GM in 2003.

Cotton has gossypol, a toxin that makes it inedible. However, scientists have silenced the gene that produces the toxin, making it a potential food crop.


Spores and crystalline insecticidal proteins produced by B. thuringiensis are used as specific insecticides under trade names such as Dipel and Thuricide. Because of their specificity, these pesticides are regarded as environmentally friendly, with little or no effect on humans, wildlife, pollinators, and most other beneficial insects. The Belgian company Plant Genetic Systems was the first company (in 1985) to develop genetically engineered (tobacco) plants with insect tolerance by expressing cry genes from B. thuringiensis.

B. thurigiensis-based insecticides are often applied as liquid sprays on crop plants, where the insecticide must be ingested to be effective. It is thought that the solubilized toxins form pores in the midgut epithelium of susceptible larvae. Recent research has suggested that the midgut bacteria of susceptible larvae are required for B. thuringiensis insecticidal activity.

Bacillus thuringiensisHYPERLINK "" serovar HYPERLINK ""israelensis, a strain of B. thuringiensis is widely used as a larvicide against mosquito larvae, where it is also considered an environmentally friendly method of mosquito control.

Genetic engineering for pest control

Bt crops (in corn and cotton) were planted on 281,500 km² in 2006 (165,600 km² of Bt corn and 115900 km² of Bt cotton). This was equivalent to 11.1% and 33.6% respectively of global plantings of corn and cotton in 2006.] Claims of major benefits to farmers, including poor farmers in developing countries, have been made by advocates of the technology, and have been challenged by opponents. The task of isolating impacts of the technology is complicated by the prevalence of biased observers, and by the rarity of controlled comparisons (such as identical seeds, differing only in the presence or absence of the Bt trait, being grown in identical situations). The main Bt crop being grown by small farmers in developing countries is cotton, and a recent exhaustive review of findings on Bt cotton by respected and unbiased agricultural economists concluded that "the overall balance sheet, though promising, is mixed. Economic returns are highly variable over years, farm type, and geographical location"


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There are several advantages in expressing Bt toxins in transgenic Bt crops:

The level of toxin expression can be very high thus delivering sufficient dosage to the pest.

The toxin expression is contained within the plant system and hence only those insects that feed on the crop perish.

The toxin expression can be modulated by using tissue-specific promoters, and replaces the use of synthetic pesticides in the environment. The latter observation has been well documented world-wide

Possible problems

The most celebrated problem ever associated with Bt crops was the claim that pollen from Bt maize could kill the monarch butterfly. This report was puzzling because the pollen from most maize hybrids contains much lower levels of Bt than the rest of the plant and led to multiple follow-up studies. In the end, it appears that the initial study was flawed; based on the way the pollen was collected, they collected and fed non-toxic pollen that was mixed with anther walls that did contain Bt toxin. The weight of the evidence is that BT crops do not pose a risk to the monarch butterfly.

There was also a report in Nature, that Bt maize was contaminating maize in its center of origin. Nature later "concluded that the evidence available is not sufficient to justify the publication of the original paper." A subsequent large-scale study failed to find any evidence of contamination in Oaxaca.