The cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops has increased significantly over the last decades. However, concerns have been raised that some GM traits may negatively affect beneficial soil biota, such as arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF), potentially leading to alterations in soil functioning. Here, we test two maize varieties expressing the Bacillus thuringiensis Cry1Ab endotoxin (Bt maize) for their effects on soil AM fungal communities. We target both fungal DNA and RNA, which is new for AM fungi, and we use two strategies as an inclusive and robust way of detecting community differences: (i) 454 pyrosequencing using general fungal rRNA gene-directed primers and (ii) terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism (T-RFLP) profiling using AM fungus-specific markers. Potential GM-induced effects were compared to the normal natural variation of AM fungal communities across 15 different agricultural fields. AM fungi were found to be abundant in the experiment, accounting for 8% and 21% of total recovered DNA- and RNA-derived fungal sequences, respectively, after 104 days of plant growth. RNA- and DNA-based sequence analyses yielded most of the same AM fungal lineages. Our research yielded three major conclusions. First, no consistent differences were detected between AM fungal communities associated with GM plants and non-GM plants. Second, temporal variation in AMF community composition (between two measured time points) was bigger than GM trait-induced variation. Third, natural variation of AMF communities across 15 agricultural fields in The Netherlands, as well as within-field temporal variation, was much higher than GM-induced variation. In conclusion, we found no indication that Bt maize cultivation poses a risk for AMF.
Verbruggen, E., Kuramae, E. E., Hillekens, R. H. E., De Hollander, M., Kiers, E. T., Roling, W. F. M., Kowalchuk, G. A., & Van der Heijden, M. G. A. (2012). Testing Potential Effects of Maize Expressing the Bacillus thuringiensis Cry1Ab Endotoxin (Bt Maize) on Mycorrhizal Fungal Communities via DNA- and RNA-Based Pyrosequencing and Molecular Fingerprinting. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 78(20), 7384-7392. https://doi.org/10.1128/AEM.01372-12