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Genome boost for nature-friendly pest control

A new database of 19 insect genomes encompassing some of the most damaging crop pests such as wireworm, cabbage stem flea beetle and pollen beetle has been made publicly available

It is hoped that the new database will help speed up the development of novel pest control approaches that can overcome resistance and create more nature-friendly solutions to crop protection. The four-year Pest Genome Initiative, a consortium of Rothamsted Research and the agriscience companies Syngenta and Bayer, firstly sequenced the genomes, and then assembled them into their constituent chromosomes before adding information about what individual genes code for.

The team say their efforts will help in the development of crop protection products that are more species-specific and overcome the problem of resistance. They will also help develop non-chemical pest control methods, such as manipulating insect behaviour; focusing on the genes that control how insects find mates and host plants and hence shepherd them away from crops. Moreover, the team's efforts will also help tackle issues involving the evolution of resistance in target species by developing pesticides that are less likely to incite resistance. 

By assembling these detailed genome ‘maps’ of annotated sequences, researchers can start to develop the next generation of pesticides – ones that very specifically target the pest while leaving other species unharmed, said Linda Field, one of the research leaders at Rothamsted.

The hope is that by having these higher quality genomes available, researchers will be able to better understand how resistance to pesticides evolve. Furthermore, it will also improve their understanding of insect chemical communication channels, opening up the possibility of non-lethal control methods that ‘hijack’ insect behaviour.

In recognition of the fact that the future of pest management will involve both better targeted chemicals and other techniques, the project also assembled the genomes of three beneficial insects, the European hoverfly, and the pirate bug, both of which predate crop pest species, as well as a species of parasitoid wasp that lays its eggs inside the crop pest, the cabbage stem flea beetle.

“It’s important we understand differences between insect species, so that we can both protect crops from pests and conserve beneficials,” said Field.