Arizona farmers’ GMO cotton targets pests, eliminates pink bollworm

CASA GRANDE — Dust from a nearby tractor blew thick across Paco Ollerton’s face as he walked across a wide field sprinkled with leftover cotton from last fall’s harvest. The tractor roared along his farm, tilling the soil to prepare for the next planting. 

The cotton seeds Ollerton would plant were bright blue and shimmery, like tiny jewels in his hand. These seeds had been color-coded to signify that they were genetically modified. 

Cotton farmers in Arizona started planting genetically modified cotton in 1996 in an effort to eradicate an invasive species of moth from Asia or Austrailia known as the pink bollworm. Pink bollworm caterpillars eat the seeds of cotton plants and damage cotton fibers, and in the 1990s and early 2000s, they were a big problem in Arizona.

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