Is Bt toxin biodegradable? (9 applications) 

This article will deal with the biodegradability status of Bt toxin. Other aspects covered would be: 

  • What is Bt toxin?
  • What are insecticides?
  • What are the disadvantages of insecticides?
  • What are Bt crops and are they harmful?
  • Is Bt toxin biodegradable?
  • FAQs

Is Bt toxin biodegradable?

Bt toxin is produced from a bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis and therefore, it is regarded as biodegradable. 

The Bt toxin is used as an insecticide with a wide variety of other applications as well that include anti-cancer activities and the production of useful biopolymers. 

Bt toxin is regarded as one of the safest insecticides and as per EPA, there are no hazardous or harmful effects of Bt toxin on life and human health. 

This is antagonistic to the various counterparts of Bt toxin such as DDT which have been proved to cause a plethora of environmental and health-related complications such as bioaccumulation and thinning of eggshells. 

What is Bt toxin? (9 applications) 

The word Bt toxin can be explained by understanding two terms. These are Bt and toxins. Bt expands to Bacillus thuringiensis. It is a type of bacterium. 

Bt is a soil-dwelling, gram-positive bacterium. There are two types of bacteria namely gram-positive and gram-negative. This is a classification system to better understand and approach the issue and idea of bacteria. 

If you are unaware of what bacteria are then bacteria are microscopic organisms that can pose threats to human life. However, these microbes can also be used for the benefit of humanity. 

Bt is an example of one such bacteria that can and is used for the benefit of humanity. Now, moving toward the second term which is a toxin. 

A toxin is any substance or material that may prove to be hazardous or lethal to any particular set of organisms. 

Bt toxin is a toxin that is produced by the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis. This toxin can be used as a natural and biological insecticide because Bt toxin is known to kill insects that may cause harm to crops and vegetation. 

It is claimed that the invention of Bt toxin as an insecticide has been a major one because it is regarded as one of the best available microbial insecticides that are effective against a plethora of insects. 

However, it is claimed that the charm of Bt toxin does not end there. It may also be used for a number of other applications as well. These include: 

  • Toxic against mites
  • Toxic against nematodes
  • Toxic against ticks 
  • Effective against pathogenic and harmful bacterial 
  • Effective against pathogenic and harmful fungi 
  • Anti-cancer activities
  • Biosynthesis of nanoparticles 
  • Production and assimilation of biopolymers 
  • Production of helpful bioproducts 

Another factor that really makes Bt toxin a remarkable discovery is the ability or capacity of Bt toxin to be genetically modified to cater to the increased resistance in insects. 

In this way, Bt toxin has the capacity to never get obsolete and will keep on tackling the issue of insects and pests that cause loss of financial substantiality and loss of crops. 

What are insecticides?

Since Bt toxin is mainly proposed as an insecticide, this section of the article will focus on the biology and environmental impact of insecticides. This will also build up a stance on the importance of Bt toxin as a biological insecticide. 

As per the definition, insecticide is a type of pesticide that is intended to either harm or kill one or more specie(s) of insects. Insecticides may achieve their function in a variety of ways. 

For example, some insecticides may damage the nervous system of the insects while some may cause physical damage to the parts such as damage to the exoskeletons. 

However, as Rumi put it, “Your pain will become your cure.” This very trait of insecticide causing harm to the nervous system or other parts of insects makes it a dangerous risk for non-target anchors that may include humans as well. 

Insecticides may be of different types. These may include: 

  • Organic 
  • Synthetic 
  • Inorganic 
  • Miscellaneous 

The most common insecticides are the following:

  • Sevin garden insecticides
  • Malathion 
  • Boric Acid roach powder 
  • Thuricide HPC
  • Neemix 4.5 

What are the disadvantages of insecticides?

You may wonder what are the disadvantages of insecticides. In other words, what is the need for biological insecticides such as the Bt toxin?

There are a number of negative effects and disadvantages that are rendered by the use of insecticides. The bluntest effect of insecticide is that other than killing the target organism, it can also affect the non-target organisms. This may also include humans. 

In this way, insecticides may end up doing more harm than good because plants and soil may need certain beneficial insects and pests that may be important in their growth and development. 

The overall negative effects rendered by insecticides can be summarised in the following key points: 

  • Highly persistent pollutants
  • Eggshell thinning
  • Loss of life
  • Bioaccumulation in various ecosystems
  • Breeding failure
  • Infiltration into the food chains and food webs

The medical impacts of insecticides include:

  • Nausea
  • Tremors
  • Cancer
  • Reproductive problems
  • Tumours
  • Developmental abnormalities
  • Neuro Complications
  • Vertigo 
  • dizziness
  • Neurological anomalies 
  • Hypersensitivity 

To further deepen our understanding of insecticides, there was a study conducted in 2009. In the study, about 356 workers were exposed to the effects of insecticides. It was seen that all the workers showed adverse medical signs. 

The workers showed significant neurological impacts. The ECG and LDH of the workers also came in different ways that implied the possibility of cardiotoxicity. 

The implications were not only restricted to medical symptoms but were also expanded to neurological, psychological and behavioural symptoms and anomalies. 

It was also studied that by exposure to insecticides there was a significant rise and increase in fertility and reproductive complications. 

Humans are not the only species that are affected by the detrimental impacts of insecticides such as DDT. Many other spices are also affected. 

For example, insecticides may bioaccumulate at various levels of food chains where they may stem medical complications. 

Insecticides are also associated with thinning of eggshells of birds due to which birds are not rightly protected leading to death. If the effects are not tampered with, it could lead to the endangerment of species too. 

Insecticides are also known to pollute waterways and land soil. Further, the effects of insecticides on aquatic species are also well-stanced. 

What are Bt crops and are they safe?

Many people confuse Bt toxin with Bt crops. Although there are a lot of similarities between the two; certain factors and aspects rift these two apart. 

We have already discussed what Bt toxin is. Let us now delve into the matter of Bt crops. Bt crops are those crops that have the gene of Bt engineered in their gene pool. 

As a result, Bt crops do not require the Bt bacteria to make the Bt toxin. They are made inherently capable of that. 

Various successful attempts have been done encompassing Bt crops. These include Bt cotton and Bt corn. In this way, plants and crops are made with the innate capacity to deal with insects and pests. This saves us from a mass of environmental and economical damage. 

Another reservation that is shared with the idea of Bt crops is whether Bt crops are safe to be digested by humans or not. The answer is yes. 

Bt crops like corn or cotton are absolutely safe to be ingested. In fact, Bt toxin is regarded as one of the safest toxins which barely affects human health. 

This statement is also backed up by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) which has vigorously analysed the impact and effects of Bt toxin on humans and found no significant relationship. 

Is Bt toxin biodegradable?

After rummaging around the periphery, let us drive toward our main topic which is the assessment of the biodegradability status of Bt toxin. But before that, we need to clarify our understanding of biodegradability. 

Biodegradability is defined as the process of breakdown of waste into simpler products by the action of microbes and enzymes. The term biodegradability is coined from two terms. These are bio and degradation. 

Bio means life and degradation means the breakdown into simpler materials. This breakdown is very essential because it is a parameter to ensure that there is no waste generation and no waste accumulation. 

If there is waste accumulation, pollution and natural habitats will be disrupted. A common example of biodegradation can be the spoilage of food or rotting vegetables. 

Biodegradability can also be analogised to the Earth’s dustbin because it is a process to treat and segregate waste. Biodegradability ensures that the waste gets back to the system and is properly utilised. 

However, not all waste is biodegradable. When it comes to biodegradability, there are two types of waste that are present. These include biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste. 

Biodegradable waste is the type of waste which can be degraded by the action of microbes and enzymes over a short period of time. Regarding this type, there is a general rule of thumb that biodegradable waste is mostly sourced from natural sources. 

Examples of biodegradable waste include plant waste, animal waste, sewage, manure, waste from slaughterhouses et cetera. 

Next, we have is a non-biodegradable waste. This type of waste is mostly sourced from non-natural sources such as the products of fossil fuels. This type of waste won’t degrade readily by the action of microbes. 

It is claimed that this type of waste may require even a thousand years to degrade. Therefore, it will lead to waste accumulation and negative impacts. Because of this, non-biodegradable waste is of more significant concern to environmentalists as compared to biodegradable waste. 

Examples of non-biodegradable waste include synthetic plastics, synthetic fibres, epoxies, hazardous waste, nuclear waste, electronic waste et cetera. 

Based on this detail, it can be said that since Bt toxin is sourced from nature (bacterium) it is easily biodegradable. There is no facet of non-naturality when it comes to Bt toxin. 

Conclusion

It is concluded that Bt toxin is produced from a bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis and therefore, it is regarded as biodegradable. 

The Bt toxin is used as an insecticide with a wide variety of other applications as well that include anti-cancer activities and the production of useful biopolymers. 

Bt toxin is regarded as one of the safest insecticides and as per EPA, there are no hazardous or harmful effects of Bt toxin on life and human health. 

This is antagonistic to the various counterparts of Bt toxin such as DDT which have been proved to cause a plethora of environmental and health-related complications such as bioaccumulation and thinning of eggshells. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Is Bt toxin biodegradable?

When was Bt toxin declared safe for humans?

Bt toxin and Bt crops were declared safe for humans in 1995 by EPA. This decision was further reassessed in 2001 and 2010. 

Why is Bt toxin better than other pesticides?

It is better because it does affect non-target organisms and also it has the capacity to genetically change to cater for improved pest and insect resistance. 

References

  • Aktar, W., Sengupta, D., & Chowdhury, A. (2009). Impact of pesticides use in agriculture: their benefits and hazards. Interdisciplinary toxicology, 2(1), 1-12.
  • Jouzani, G. S., Valijanian, E., & Sharafi, R. (2017). Bacillus thuringiensis: a successful insecticide with new environmental features and tidings. Applied microbiology and biotechnology, 101(7), 2691-2711.
  • Soberón, M., Pardo-López, L., López, I., Gómez, I., Tabashnik, B. E., & Bravo, A. (2007). Engineering modified Bt toxins to counter insect resistance. Science, 318(5856), 1640-1642.
  • Mendelsohn, M., Kough, J., Vaituzis, Z., & Matthews, K. (2003). Are Bt crops safe?. Nature biotechnology, 21(9), 1003-1009.
  • Huesing, J., & English, L. (2004). The impact of Bt crops on the developing world.

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