Science catching up with a pestilent moth
Rice, cotton, daffodils and corn: if it's green and grows to the sky, it's lunch for the cotton bollworm, the world's worst plant pest and a destroyer of billions of dollars of crops. ( dpa )
Scientists working round the globe to catalogue its 14,000 genes reckon they are not far off finding a weak spot.
"We'll then be able to intelligently take on this No 1 pest of agriculture and go on the front foot, attacking it from the inside," Melbourne University geneticist Philip Batterham said.
He told The Sydney Morning Herald that sequencing the genes would allow scientists to create an insecticide within the moth itself.
It's a breakthrough that would have enormous consequences for agricultural production and transform the lives of millions of farmers. Cotton farmers in India now spend up to 40 per cent of their incomes on insecticides to protect their crop. In China, half of the insecticides used are to keep the cotton bollworm at bay.
"It attacks at least 100 different commercial crops," Batterham said. "In our lab we've watched the caterpillar stage of this moth eat through plastic."
The international quest to code the bollworm is led by Melbourne University, Germany's Max Planck Institute, France's National Institute of Agricultural Research and Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.