K-State professors make discovery in pesticide-resistant bugs

MANHATTAN -- Farmers have known for years that insects are able to become immune to insecticides over time. Learning how they become immune is one part of the fight against crop pests, and some Kansas State University professors have made a discovery in that area.

Greenbugs are a major pest of sorghum, wheat and other small grain crops in the Midwest. Organophosphates are one of the major classes of insecticides used to control greenbugs. But insects often become impervious to insecticides, and that has come true for the greenbugs and organophosphates.

Kun Yan Zhu, assistant professor of entomology at K-State, and former K-State graduate student Jian-Rong Gao discovered that some greenbugs developed their resistance in an unusual way. They are the first scientists to discover how this resistance works at the molecular level, Zhu said.

Zhu and Gao, who now works at the University of Massachusetts, were invited to present their work at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society April 7-11, in Orlando, Fla. Gao took first place in the 2002 Young Scientist Pre-and Postdoctoral Research award sponsored by the Agrochemicals Division and Dow Agrosciences for his work on greenbug resistance.

"There are millions of individuals of an insect pest species in a field. Some individuals may have certain genes that can confer resistance. Insects without such mechanisms will be killed by an insecticide. Those with the mechanisms survive and reproduce," Zhu said.

Greenbugs with the special immunity can be 13 times less sensitive for the enzyme known as acetylcholinesterase, or AChE, to certain organophosphates than normal greenbugs.

AChE is an enzyme that humans and insects alike need for their nervous systems to work correctly. Organophosphates kill insects by blocking the enzyme until their nervous systems do not function properly.

Genes are the DNA fragments directing the production of proteins or enzymes. Inse

Contact: Kun Yan Zhu
Kansas State University

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