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.

CSIROscope Blog

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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