Decomposition dynamics and structural plant components of genetically modified Bt maize leaves do not differ from conventional hybrids.

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Abstract or Summary

The cultivation of genetically modified Bt maize has raised environmental concerns, as large amounts of plant residues remain in the field and may negatively impact the soil ecosystem. In a field experiment, decomposition of leaf residues from three genetically modified (two expressing the Cry1Ab, one the Cry3Bb1 protein) and six non-transgenic hybrids (the three corresponding non-transformed near-isolines and three conventional hybrids) was investigated using litterbags. To elucidate the mechanisms that cause differences in plant decomposition, structural plant components (i.e., C:N ratio, lignin, cellulose, hemicellulose) were examined. Furthermore, Cry1Ab and Cry3Bb1 protein concentrations in maize leaf residues were measured from harvest to the next growing season. While leaf residue decomposition in transgenic and non-transgenic plants was similar, differences among conventional cultivars were evident. Similarly, plant components among conventional hybrids differed more than between transgenic and non-transgenic hybrids. Moreover, differences in senescent plant material collected directly from plants were larger than after exposure to soil for 5 months. While the concentration of Cry3Bb1 was higher in senescent maize leaves than that of Cry1Ab, degradation was faster, indicating that Cry3Bb1 has a shorter persistence in plant residues. As decomposition patterns of Bt-transgenic maize were shown to be well within the range of common conventional hybrids, there is no indication of ecologically relevant, adverse effects on the activity of the decomposer community.

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