Biotech Updates

Lancaster Univ Researchers Discover Potential Weapon Against African Crop Pests

July 6, 2012

A team of scientists from Lancaster University made a discovery that could provide new strategies to control armyworms and other insect crop pests around the globe. Their research focused on Wolbachia, an intra-cellular bacterium carried by 75 per cent of all insect species. Researchers discovered that when some insects, including mosquitoes, carry Wolbachia, it protects them from viruses including the virus causing dengue. Wolbachia-carrying mosquitoes have been released in Northern Australia to allow the bacterium to spread through the local mosquito population and reduce dengue transmission in the area.

The discovery led the research team to explore if Wolbachia would have a similar effect on African armyworms, potentially hampering the effectiveness of the biopesticides such as SpexNPV (baculovirus that naturally infects and kills the African armyworm) currently under development in Tanzania. Project leader Prof. Ken Wilson reported that not only did Wolbachia fail to protect the armyworms against SpexNPV, but populations carrying lots of Wolbachia also had much higher viral loads and more of these caterpillars died naturally of viral disease.

To confirm that the increased susceptibility to virus of Wolbachia-carrying armyworms was caused by the presence of the bacterium, Professor Wilson and his team took the insects back to the laboratory where they used antibiotics to 'cure' some of the armyworms of Wolbachia and infected them with the virus. Remarkably, they found that Wolbachia-carrying armyworms were between 6 to 14 times more susceptible to SpexNPV than armyworms that had their bacterial passengers removed.

More details about this research are available at Lancaster University's website: