The use of genetically modified (Bt) crops expressing lepidopteran-specific Cry proteins derived from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis is an effective method to control the polyphagous pest Helicoverpa armigera. As H. armigera potentially develops resistance to Cry proteins, Bt crops should be regarded as one tool in integrated pest management. Therefore, they should be compatible with biological control. Bioassays were conducted to understand the interactions between a Cry2Aa-expressing chickpea line, either a susceptible or a Cry2A-resistant H. armigera strain, and the entomopathogenic fungus Metarhizium anisopliae. In a first concentration-response assay, Cry2A-resistant larvae were more tolerant of M. anisopliae than susceptible larvae, while in a second bioassay, the fungus caused similar mortalities in the two strains fed control chickpea leaves. Thus, resistance to Cry2A did not cause any fitness costs that became visible as increased susceptibility to the fungus. On Bt chickpea leaves, susceptible H. armigera larvae were more sensitive to M. anisopliae than on control leaves. It appeared that sublethal damage induced by the B. thuringiensis toxin enhanced the effectiveness of M. anisopliae. For Cry2A-resistant larvae, the mortalities caused by the fungus were similar when they were fed either food source. To examine which strain would be more likely to be exposed to the fungus, their movements on control and Bt chickpea plants were compared. Movement did not appear to differ among larvae on Bt or conventional chickpeas, as indicated by the number of leaflets damaged per leaf. The findings suggest that Bt chickpeas and M. anisopliae are compatible to control H. armigera.
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