Pest Control Strategies Evolve With Genome Sequencing

Spotted wing drosophilia. Photo credit: John Tann on Flickr
Spotted wing drosophilia. Photo credit: John Tann on Flickr

Genome sequencing is being used to combat the spotted wing drosophila (SWD), a major pest that targets berries and cherries and other fruits in the United States, Canada and Europe.

For growers and the agriculture industry as a whole, new strategies for pest control could be implemented with studies such as this one.

“Genomic sequencing will bring about the development of control strategies that can serve as alternatives or complements to chemical insecticides,” says molecular geneticist Joanna Chiu of the University of California Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. “They will likely be more species-specific, and less harmful to beneficial insects such as honey bees, native pollinators and natural enemies of the pests.”

As part of a U.S. Department of Agriculture research grant, Chiu recently collaborated with scientists at UC Davis, Oregon State University, the China National Gene Bank and the American Museum of Natural History on the $5.8 million project to study the biology and management of spotted wing drosophila.

New tools for pest control using sequenced genomes will allow researchers to determine the range and types of sensory receptors SWD have and help design more effective attractants or repellents, Chiu says.

By finding the fly’s unique genetic signature, scientists hope that DNA testing will quickly determine if ready-to-be-shipped fruit contains spotted wing drosophila larvae, says OSU entomologist Vaughn Walton, lead investigator of the USDA grant, in a statement.

“If production facilities have accurate molecular tools to differentiate between drosophila species, they can quickly (within an hour or two) determine whether the fruits they are shipping out contain SWD,” Chiu says. “This way, they don’t have to wait for days to rear the larvae to adults to determine if they indeed have SWD in their fruits. By that time, the fruits are already all spoiled.”

Although the specific project only targets the spotted wing drosophila, genomic sequencing can be applied to other species of pests.

“It can help identify new insecticide targets and allow researchers to develop accurate markers to assess insecticide resistance if that comes about,” Chiu says. “Finally, it can be used to design RNAi-based pest control, which will only be species-specific if we have the genome sequence.”

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