Bt-induced hormesis in Bt-resistant insects: theoretical possibility or factual concern?
The biphasic dose-response of a stressor where low amounts of a toxicant may stimulate some biological processes is a recent focus of attention in insecticide ecotoxicology. Nonetheless, the importance and management consequences of this phenomenon of pesticide-induced hormesis remain largely unrecognized. Curiously, the potential induction of hormesis by insecticidal proteins such as Bacillus thuringiensis toxins (i.e., Bt toxins), a major agriculture pest management tool of widespread use, has been wholly neglected. Thus, we aimed to circumvent this shortcoming while assessing the potential occurrence of hormesis induced by the Bt toxin Cry1Fa in its main target pest species - the fall armyworm Spodoptera frugiperda. Concentration-response bioassays were carried out in a Bt-susceptible and a Bt-resistant population providing the purified Cry1Fa toxin in artificial diet and recording the insect demographic parameters. As significant hormetic effect was detected in both populations with a significant increase in the net reproductive rate and the intrinsic rate of population growth, the potential occurrence of Bt-induced hormesis was subsequently tested providing the insects with leaves from transgenic Bt maize expressing the toxic protein. The performance of the Bt-resistant insects was not different in both maize genotypes, indicating that the leaf expression of the Bt protein did not promote hormesis in the resistant insects. Thus, despite the Bt-induced hormesis detected in the purified protein bioassays, the phenomenon was not detected with current levels of Bt expression in maize minimizing the risk of this additional efficacy constraint besides that of field occurrence of Bt resistance.