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New method for control of soybean aphids

Bryony Bonning, professor of entomology, and Allen Miller, professor of plant pathology and director of the Center for Plant Responses to Environmental Stresses, are looking at a way to genetically modify soybeans to prevent damage from aphids.

If the research is successful, soybeans will carry in-plant protection from aphids, similar to the way genetically modified corn now keeps the European Corn Borer from destroying corn yields, but using a different molecular tool. Modified corn technology has been in use for about 12 years.

The current research focuses on introducing a gene into soybeans that is harmless to mammals, but creates a toxin that is lethal to aphids that feed on soybean plants.

In order to be effective, the toxin needs to be taken intact into the body cavity of the aphid, not broken down by the digestive system in the bug.

Miller and Bonning identified a plant virus coat protein eaten by soybean aphids that doesn't break down and goes into the aphid body cavity intact.

They know the virus coat protein remains intact because the aphids often spread the virus from plant to plant while they are feeding.

Coat proteins make up the outer shell of a virus particle.

The researchers devised a method to use virus coat proteins to their advantage. The researchers have fused their toxin to the virus' protein coat. Since the protein coat is only part of the virus to be used, there is no risk of an infectious virus. Also, the coat protein is from a virus that normally doesn't infect soybeans.

When the hybrid toxin coat protein is eaten by the aphid, the fatal toxin should get into the aphid body cavity intact.

by S. C.
18 september 2009, Technical Area > Science News

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