Nitrogen rate effects on Cry3Bb1 and Cry3Bb1+Cry34/35Ab1 expression in transgenic corn roots, resulting root injury, and corn rootworm beetle emergence.
Nitrogen (N) application rates have been recommended historically for maximum economic yield of corn (Zea mays L.), but not for optimal expression or impacts of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis Berliner) Cry protein(s) on target insects. This study explored the need to adjust N rates to optimize expression of corn rootworm-active Bt (Bt-RW) protein(s) in a single and a pyramided trait hybrid and resulting impacts on beetle emergence and root injury, under field conditions. The experiment featured a factorial treatment arrangement in a split-plot randomized complete block design with six N rates as the main plots and three hybrids (MON88017 expressing Cry3Bb1, MON88017 x DAS-59122 expressing Cry3Bb1+Cry34/35Ab1, and a non-Bt-RW hybrid) as the subplots. Corn roots were sampled at the beginning of, and after, peak larval feeding to determine Bt-expression levels using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Beetles were collected every 2-3 d during emergence using cut-plant emergence cages. Cry3Bb1 expression was significantly reduced when little or no N was applied. Cry34Ab1 and Cry35Ab1 expression was highly variable and unaffected by N rate. Beetle emergence increased with N rate in the non-Bt-RW hybrid while root injury declined. Provided Bt-RW hybrids had sufficient applied N, root injury was relatively low. Results indicate that N management could affect Bt-RW expression and success of insect resistance management plans provided N is applied at rates that enhance production of susceptible beetles emerging from the non-Bt-RW (refuge) hybrid, and achieve optimal expression and efficacy of Bt traits.