Biotech Updates

Insecticide-Free Control of Soybean Aphids

September 18, 2009

Researchers at the Center of Plant Responses to Environmental Stresses of Iowa State University led by Bryony Bonning and Allen Miller are developing soybeans with built in resistance to aphids. Soybean aphid outbreaks have resulted to yield losses exceeding US$250 million in Iowa and could incur US$64 million in insecticide control. The researchers are thus devising ways to introduce genes into soybean that will be lethal to aphids but not to mammals.

One strategy is to introduce an intact toxin into the body cavity which will not be broken down by the insect's digestive system. Miller and Bonning have recently identified a plant virus coat protein which when eaten by the aphids pass through their body cavity intact. They fused the toxin to the virus' protein coat such that when the hybrid toxin coat protein is eaten by the aphid, the fatal toxin should get into the aphid body cavity intact.

"The (potential) economic impact overall is huge," said Bonning. "There will be less insecticide use, and also less fossil fuel used to apply the insecticides." Farmers should be given effective alternatives to soybean aphid management, he further stressed.

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