Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a natural pathogen of different invertebrates, primarily insects, is widely used as a biological control agent. While Bt-based preparations are claimed to be safe for non-target organisms due to the immense host specificity of the bacterium, the growing evidence witnesses the distant consequences of their application for natural communities. For instance, upon introduction to soil habitats, Bt strains can affect indigenous microorganisms, such as bacteria and fungi, and further establish complex relationships with local plants, ranging from a mostly beneficial demeanor, to pathogenesis-like plant colonization. By exerting a direct effect on target insects, Bt can indirectly affect other organisms in the food chain. Furthermore, they can also exert an off-target activity on various soil and terrestrial invertebrates, and the frequent acquisition of virulence factors unrelated to major insecticidal toxins can extend the Bt host range to vertebrates, including humans. Even in the absence of direct detrimental effects, the exposure to Bt treatment may affect non-target organisms by reducing prey base and its nutritional value, resulting in delayed alleviation of their viability. The immense phenotypic plasticity of Bt strains, coupled with the complexity of ecological relationships they can engage in, indicates that further assessment of future Bt-based pesticides’ safety should consider multiple levels of ecosystem organization and extend to a wide variety of their inhabitants.

Original languageEnglish
Article number355
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2021

    Research areas

  • Bacillus thuringiensis, Biopesticide, Ecology, Entomophages, Pathogen

    Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis

ID: 92113694