Genetically modified Bt cotton helped eradicate pink bollworm — and saved US farmers $200 million over five years. Now, scientists and farmers are deploying technology to target other pests

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Credit: Tribune India
Credit: Tribune India

A recent study from the University of Arizona shows that farmers were able to eradicate [pink bollworm] with the help of a coordinated, multifaceted program across the Southwest and northern Mexico among university, federal and state scientists, individual cotton growers and the cotton industry.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture declared that the pink bollworm was eradicated in the United States in October 2018, but lead study author Bruce Tabashnik said the last pink bollworm was found in Arizona in 2012 and effectively eliminated in the state by 2013, a feat he initially didn’t think would be possible.

Genetically modified crops are not a silver bullet, he said, and over-relying on them can quickly cause problems with insect resistance.

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“By itself, the Bt crop is generally not going to allow eradication, so you need to combine it with other tactics,” he explained. “The combination of Bt cotton and sterile moth releases is a marriage made in heaven … it works much better than you’d expect.”

Now, [USDA research entomologist Jeff] Fabrick said he hopes the success of this method could be applied against other types of insects or against pink bollworms in other areas of the world, such as China, though he acknowledged that the right conditions are needed for success.

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