Unlocking the genome of Helicoverpa armigera, cotton bollworm

Scientists from CSIRO and the University of Melbourne in Australia, and the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, are on the brink of a discovery which will facilitate the development of new, safe, more sustainable ways of controlling the world’s worst agricultural insect pest – the moth, Helicoverpa armigera. The Australian Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator the Hon Kim Carr, said – at the BIO 2008 International Convention in San Diego, California – that the team was expected to sequence the moth’s genome in about four months.

“This will allow the collaborating scientists and a worldwide consortium of specialists to work on new ways of controlling this pest,” Senator Carr said. According to CSIRO’s Group Executive for Agribusiness, Dr Joanne Daly, these include: the molecular basis of resistance to chemical and Bt insecticides and population genetics related to the refuge strategies in place to help prevent Helicoverpa from developing resistance to Bt transgenic cottons. “This moth is resistant to nearly every class of chemical pesticide and threatens the long-term viability of transgenic crops which are reliant on the biological pesticide, Bt,” Dr Daly said. “The sequencing of the genome will greatly facilitate this research by improving the power, cost effectiveness and insights from the genetic work on this species and its American cousin H. zea,” University of Melbourne Associate Professor Philip Batterham said. “This moth is resistant to nearly every class of chemical pesticide and threatens the long-term viability of transgenic crops which are reliant on the biological pesticide, Bt,” Dr Daly said. Senator Carr said that finding the moth's Achilles heel was critically important to agriculture worldwide.

“The moth causes $225 million of damage a year in Australia – $5 billion globally – to crops such as cotton, legumes and vegetables,” he said. The insect species causing similar damage in US is Helicoverpa zea. It is a major pest on cotton, corn, soybeans and many fruits and vegetables. Much of the research is concentrated on this pest due to the problems with insecticidal and possible Bt resistance. Source: CSIRO/Michael Ryan.

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