Scientists working under the banner of the Lincoln University based New Zealand Bio-Protection Research Centre are examining how to harness naturally occurring fungi and bacteria as biopesticides capable of killing insect pests.
Centre Director Professor Travis Glare says they are currently performing field trials against the diamondback moth, a caterpillar pest, which has become a major problem worldwide attacking cruciferous crops such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and bok choy.
“About $1 billion per year is spent on trying to control this pest. One of the key challenges posed by the diamondback is its ability to quickly become resistant to chemical pesticides.”
Researchers working on the project are tapping into the expertise of specialists at New Zealand Genomics Ltd (NZGL), a genomics infrastructure provider established in 2010 by three universities – Massey University, The University of Auckland and University of Otago – with support from the Government. NZGL provides an integrated suite of genomic services involving gene sequencing, bioinformatics and genomics appropriate information technology.
Professor Glare says the Bio-Protection Research Centre, a Government-funded Centre of Research Excellence (CoRE), is working with strains of Beauveria, a fungus that acts as a parasite and can kill or seriously disable insects. They are testing chemicals released by the fungus for their potential as active agents in biopesticides.
“Beauveria has a lot of strain variations which generate different toxins capable of killing insect pests. We are particularly interested in working out which genes encode for those toxins.”
“So far we have sequenced four strains of Beauveria, and we plan to compare these with strains from elsewhere in the world to find variations that may be even better.”
Professor Glare says NZGL has proved to be an incredible resource for their research, providing not only gene sequencing services but also bioinformatics so the massive amounts of data generated can be analysed fully.
“As a Centre of Research Excellence we rely on NZGL to help us handle the large datasets and bioinformatics that drive our science. It is also incredibly useful to have someone you can talk to and work over results with.”
The research has attracted commercial partner interest and Professor Glare says the spray tests they are now doing are to test their efficacy in field situations.