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Syngenta to release new transgenic cotton

Syngenta is billing its soon-to-be-released VipCot as a new choice for the transgenic control of worms in cotton. The transgenic cotton variety, which provides cotton plants with broad-spectrum, full-season protection from lepidopteran pests is not yet commercially available. However, at an Aug. 25 Syngenta field day in Leland, Miss., company officials said they anticipate an experimental use permit for on-farm research and seed increase in 2004 , and a full commercial product launch in time for the 2005 growing season.

VipCot employs vegetative insecticidal protein discovered in 1994 by Syngenta in a sample of sour milk. Although derived from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), Vip is structurally and functionally different from the endotoxins employed in current traits.

The secreted vegetative protein is expressed early in the season, beginning during cotton's vegetative stage of growth. Once susceptible caterpillar species consume the protein, feeding should cease immediately, with death occurring within 24 to 72 hours.

Due to its novel mode of action, cotton growers can use VipCot as an effective tool for insect resistance management, the company said.

According to Syngenta research, the vegetative insecticidal protein — Vip — is expressed throughout the entire plant and provides complete plant protection from cotton bollworm, tobacco budworm, pink bollworm, beet armyworm, fall armyworm, cabbage looper and soybean looper.

The transgenic cotton variety has no activity against many beneficial species, including monarch butterflies, ladybugs, honeybees and earth worms, said Frank Shotkoski, global cotton traits technical manager for Syngenta.

Roger Leonard, an entomologist with the Louisiana State University AgCenter, said VipCot is a new pest control technology for cotton, offering a new, completely different protein to growers. Its alternative mode of action could also play a factor in resistance management, and may eventually offer growers an alternative refuse management opportunity.

“Anything we can do to increase the availability of novel traits in cotton varieties will help us sustain the insect control technology,” Leonard said.

In Leonard's 2003 research with VipCot, he has seen season-long worm control and reduced square damage caused by cotton bollworms and tobacco budworms, as compared to conventional cotton varieties treated with insecticides.

“Growers must also still continue scouting for secondary pests in cotton. VipCot has no activity on insects like stink bugs, so producers will not be able to do away with the current insecticides being used,” Leonard said. “VipCot is not going to be completely immune to damage by worms, just as the other transgenics on the market are not 100 percent immune to damage.”

Although VipCot is the first transgenic cotton variety offering by the company, Syngenta said there's more to come. “This is not going to be a one-hit wonder. We have more transgenic products coming down the pipeline,” said Shotkoski. “We're also working on varieties that offer nematode resistance, stress tolerance, herbicide tolerance, and sucking insect resistance.

“We have conducted extensive testing internally, with Delta and Pine Land Company though our research collaboration, and with university cooperators, to evaluate the performance of VipCot in the lab and in the field. That research indicates that VipCot effectively protects cotton plants against damage from target species — including tobacco budworm and bollworm — ultimately helping to protect yield,” said Shotkoski.

From a university prospective, Leonard said, “We want as many transgenics as possible introduced to the market to increase competitiveness in the cotton industry.”

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