Bt vs. non-Bt corn (Zea mays L.) hybrids: effect on degradation of corn stover in soil
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A billion tons per year of genetically modified corn residues are soil incorporated having both direct and indirect effects on the belowground environment, soil carbon (C) sequestration, and nutrient cycling. If Bt genetic modification has non-target effects on corn stover structural/non-structural carbohydrate and nitrogen (N) concentrations, then the degradation rate of Bt-corn stover may be different than that of non-Bt isolines, possibly influencing soil C storage and N mineralization. Thus, this research focused primarily on the comparison of C and N mineralization of corn stover in soil as affected by Bt-trait, plant portion, water-availability and HFC-trait; and secondarily on the existence of Bt-related variations in the chemical structure of corn residues that might affect the degradation rate of stover in soil and consequently the soil C and N dynamics. A laboratory experiment was conducted under non-limiting N conditions with stover of Bt/non-Bt isogenic pairs of two varieties, a ?high fermentable corn? (HFC) line harvested at Snook, Texas and a non-HFC corn line harvested at the irrigated field of Snook and the non-irrigated field of College Station, Texas. The stover was partitioned into three plant portions, incorporated into a Weswood soil and incubated during 223 days. Results showed that the differences observed in the degradation in soil of Bt vs. non-Bt corn stover were dependent on environmental conditions (irrigated vs. non-irrigated settings) and hybrid variety (HFC vs. non-HFC hybrid lines). The structural composition of corn plants was affected by the Bt-trait, HFC-trait, irrigation and their interactions. Variations in the biomass fractions of the initial stover of Bt and non-Bt hybrids had minimum to non-impact on soil C and N concentrations measured at the end of the 223-day incubation period. Lignin concentration was affected by a Bt-trait*variety interaction. There were no significant differences in lignin concentration between non-Bt/Bt-corn derived stovers of the non-HFC variety irrespective of irrigation regime but Bt-hybrids of the HFC variety contained more than twice as much lignin as the non-Bt isogenic plants. The effects of higher lignin concentration on C mineralization rate appeared to be offset by an increased lignin degradability inherent in HFC-trait. Overall, results indicated that the cultivation of Bt-modified maize lines is not likely to have significant effects on soil C or N dynamics compared with the cropping of non-Bt hybrids.
Salvatore, Herminia T. (2009). Bt vs. non-Bt corn (Zea mays L.) hybrids: effect on degradation of corn stover in soil. Master's thesis, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from