Worm turns for cotton pest as Australia breeds in resistance

Interesting insight into the Australian effort to overcome pest resistance to Bt cotton by using precise farming methods.

News @ CSIRO

By Sharon Downes, Team Leader, Resistance Evolution.

Among Australia’s key cotton pests is the global insect nemesis of agriculture, Helicoverpa armigera. More commonly known as a bollworm, the larvae of this beast munch on precious crops in Asia, Europe, Africa and Australia, causing damage estimated at greater than US$2 billion each year. The bollworm’s weapon is simple: it rapidly evolves resistance to insecticide sprays.

Insects fight back

To tackle the problem, in the mid-1990s Australian cotton breeders began incorporating Bt insect resistance genes in their varieties. “Bt cotton” plants dispatch an insecticide from a bacteria – Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) – that is toxic to the bollworm.

The advantages of using Bt cotton over non-Bt varieties are huge. Since introducing it over a decade ago, there has been an 80% reduction in the use of chemical pesticides previously required to control bollworms. This not only means safer working…

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