Release of sterilised moths avoids the need for refuges in cotton growing

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 Success in integrated pest management of pink boll worm in Arizona provides encouraging news for both the environment and for cotton growers. A two-pronged strategy involving insect protected cotton and biological control with wide scale release of sterile moths virtually eliminates resistance to the genetically inbuilt cotton insect protection system in pink boll worm pests.

Summary of the original scientific publication:
Suppressing resistance to Bt cotton with sterile insect releases

Bruce E Tabashnik, Mark S Sisterson , Peter C Ellsworth, Timothy J Dennehy, Larry Antilla, Leighton Liesner, Mike Whitlow, Robert T Staten, Jeffrey A Fabrick, Gopalan C Unnithan, Alex J Yelich, Christa Ellers-Kirk, Virginia S Harpold, Xianchun Li & Yves Carrière


Genetically engineered crops that produce insecticidal toxins from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) are grown widely for pest control. However, insect adaptation can reduce the toxins’ efficacy. The predominant strategy for delaying pest resistance to Bt crops requires refuges of non-Bt host plants to provide susceptible insects to mate with resistant insects. Variable farmer compliance is one of the limitations of this approach. Here we report the benefits of an alternative strategy where sterile insects are released to mate with resistant insects and refuges are scarce or absent. Computer simulations show that this approach works in principle against pests with recessive or dominant inheritance of resistance. During a large-scale, four-year field deployment of this strategy in Arizona, resistance of pink bollworm (Pectinophora gossypiella) to Bt cotton did not increase. A multitactic eradication program that included the release of sterile moths reduced pink bollworm abundance by >99%, while eliminating insecticide sprays against this key invasive pest.

Nature Biotechnology
Published online: 7 November 2010 | doi:10.1038/nbt.1704

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David Tribe is an applied geneticist, teaching graduate/undergrad courses in food science, food safety, biotechnology and microbiology at the University of Melbourne.