“We still don’t know why the modified toxins were so effective against some resistant strains and not others” Tabashnik said. “The take-home message is we need to look at this on a case-by-case basis.”

Tabashnik pointed out that “based on the lab results, we think the modified Bt toxins could be useful, but we won’t know until they're tested in the field.”  He said the results are promising enough that Pioneer, a major agriculture and biotechnology company, made a significant investment to pursue the technology.

Through the UA’s Office of Technology Transfer, the UA's stake in the technology has been licensed to UNAM, which in turn selected Pioneer as their commercial partner in exploring its potential for commercialization. 

“At the very least, we've learned more about the pests and their interactions with Bt toxins, ” Tabashnik said. “In a best-case scenario, this could help growers sustain environmentally friendly pest control.”

In addition to Tabashnik, Bravo and Soberón, the following co-authors have contributed to this study: Fangneng Huang, B. Rogers Leonard and Mukti Ghimire at Louisiana State University Agricultural Center in Baton Rouge, La.; Blair Siegfried and Murugesan Rangasamy at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, Neb.; Yajun Yang and Yidong Wu at Nanjing Agricultural University in Nanjing, China; Linda Gahan at Clemson University in Clemson, S.C.; David Heckel at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, Germany.

The report, "Efficacy of genetically modified Bt toxins against insects with different genetic mechanisms of resistance," was published as an advance online publication on Nature Biotechnology's website on Oct. 9, 2011.