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Whenever people ask you in an interview, what is your biggest weakness? Everyone is usually encouraged to bend the truth on this one because you want to show them only the perfect parts of yourself. If I were to truly answer this question, it would be time management. Not that I can’t plan things out in a timely fashion but rather I have the problem of believing that my desire to want to do everything can be achieved. While having Hermoine’s time turner would be dope (I own a knock off lol!), it’s not actually real. So instead sometimes I wish I could be a fungus! ….if I were a fungus I could potentially be in 2 places at once…(since you know they are the world’s largest living organism and are miles long)

Ever since I started at Sarvodaya Farms, I feel myself slowly evolving  into one of those microbe groupies… although to be honest I’m not the biggest fan of the Hidden Half of Nature but I will admit that I have significantly deepened my respect and appreciation for the hard work these “closest thing to a zombie” put in to keep our ecosystem in balance.

A long time ago, Rishi sent everyone an email suggesting that we look into Bt and neem oil. With my slow and steady pace with these posts, I was sure someone would have already posted about one or the other. But since I haven’t seen anyone write on it, I did a quick google scholar search on Bt hoping that I would find more history on Bt… Unfortunately SCIENTIFIC articles and journals spend very little typing space on history… go figure- could be one of the ways science is white washed…(check out Alexis’s teach in on this with the Free Radicals https://freerads.org/events/)

However I did come to find that Bt is also part of the microbe family! woohoo- who knew science research could have moments of joy 🙂 Anywho here is some bulleted summary points and my commentary sub-bulleted from my findings.

  • Bt aka bacillus thuringiensis is a bacterium that carries insecticidal properties thanks to sporulation and targets lepidoptera (butterflies/moths), coleoptera (beetles), or diptera (flies/mosquitos)
    • my interpretation: Bt is part of that trendy microbial family (Bacillus: our favorite soil bacteria fam) and can produce the insecticidal crystalline proteins (ICPs) that kill the target insect such as these common agricultural pests: bollworms, stem borers, budworms, leafworms, gypsy moth, and the cabbe looper and diamondback moth. The specifics of its killing have to do with something called midgut epithelium where once its ingested Bt can create a leak in a insect’s midgut and lead to paralysis and then death. The killing takes hours to days (reminds me a bit of the brutality of  the sarvodaya cats preying on the baby gophers…)
      • Sarvodaya Farm side anecdote: there was a cabbage moth takeover in D7 in February 2017 and we sprayed Bt spray on it and the next week- there seemed to be no more holey cabbage!! And lucky CSA buyers- I think we just started harvesting our first cabbages of the season this past week; they look beautiful. (sorry I forgot to take a picture of the cabbage moth worm but it was green and squishy and Laurette is one fine hunter of them! Also another point: they lay these green elongated eggs on the underside of the leaves that when combined seriously are bigger than the cabbage moth itself. imagine birthing so many babies that aggregate to a size bigger than yourself! crazy.)
  • Egyptians were the first to recognize the insecticidal properties of B Thuringiensis. In 1901, Ishiwata Shigetane isolated Bt from dead silkworm larvae suffering from a disease called flacherie. Then a decade later a German dude named Berliner isolated the same thing from diseased flour moth larva and officially named it Bt. It wasn’t until the 1950’s that the insecticidal crystal proteins were identified.
    • I think I clicked on at least 8 articles before I could find any mention of the Egyptians and even then it was 1 line! Also turns out Shigetane named it Bacillus sotto but not sure why thuringiensis won the title. (Thuringiensis is closely linked to the German state of Thuringia where the flour moth larvae was found… at least it wasn’t called Bacillus Berliner… lol so Bt it is. I wonder what the Egyptians called it?) I don’t really understand why we need this “modern science” to make up new words and convince the institutions in our system that something works when indigenous people or people from the past have been doing it for centuries.
  • By 1999, the EPA had registered over 182 Bt spray products but they only constituted 2% of the insecticide sales.  In 1987, scientists demonstrated that the Bt gene could be introduced and expressed into plants. By 2001, 69% of cotton, 26% of corn, and 68% of soybeans in the US were genetically engineered.
    • I’m not sure of the prices but I would guess that a Bt spray is probably much cheaper than buying genetically engineered seeds every season… since you only need to purchase the spray if you have an insect infestation in your crops. However thanks to the mechanics of our capitalist system, it is obviously much more profitable for industrial ag corporations to market and push for farmers to purchase GE seeds and these plants already equipped to destroy any of the target insects that might be eager to feed on them. Since like netflix and spotify, you make more $$ if you have subscribers instead of 1 time purchasers. genius… if your intentions and goals are profits over common sense or promoting healthy ecosystems. This is actually my biggest issue with genetically engineered crops- academic institutions continue to receive and rely on funding to do this research where corporations often times patent the knowledge and force farmers to develop a dependency on their products. And this dependency is almost too often encouraged by a farmers’ local government farm agency (aka USDA’s FSAs) and their local university ag extension officers who are there to support farmers. okay clearly I could keep going on and on so I’ll stop here. I hope I don’t become a hypocrite when I go to grad school in the fall… hold me accountable people!
  • Btw, there is a ton of diversity within Bt- there are more than 60 serotypes and hundreds of different subspecies.
    • with so much diversity I doubt microbes have such a concept as white supremacy or monoculture in their communities- I could be wrong though.

Overall conclusion, if you’re a farmer who is conscious about the ecosystem and still need to produce food for people, then I think Bt is a good short term solution to when your crops come across a moth, worm, or beetle problem. The longer term solution being you need to maintain and promote high soil fertility/health and strong, resilient ecosystems in your farm. Then you won’t have to go to the store to purchase this spray, unless you know how to cultivate this bacterium yourself. (anyone know how to? wouldn’t it be cool if we could make our own Bt like kombucha lol)

These are the 2 articles I sourced my bullets from. sorry was too lazy to use MLA or APA citation style, but hey this is just a blog so who cares!