Molecular biology and biological control team up to thwart pests and weeds

Hoping to tag-team invading insect and plant species with the oldest and newest in scientific approaches, researchers from 22 nations will gather Oct. 14-16 in Montpellier, France, for a symposium on "The Role of Genetics and Evolution in Biological Control."

The scientists will be sharing the latest information on how molecular biology can be applied to traditional biological-control techniques in order to combat insect pests and invasive plants.

"One of the most effective means for dealing with invasive insect pests and weeds is classical biological control, which relies on the introduction of natural enemies of the invader from its native home," says Lester Ehler, a UC Davis entomology professor and president of the International Organization for Biological Control, which is hosting the symposium.

"Ideally, the enemies should come from the precise location in the native home from which the invader originated," Ehler says. "With advances in molecular genetics, we now have the tools to determine that location. This will greatly improve our ability to find a natural enemy that is well adapted to the target invasive pest."

In addition to this application of molecular biology, scientists also are considering the mass-rearing of genetically modified species to control unwanted insect pests. Furthermore, they are exploring how compatible genetically modified crops and natural enemies of insect pests may be.

For example, many genetically modified crops express a toxin, derived from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), that kills certain insect pests. Bt cotton was developed to control the cotton bollworm, Bt corn for control of European corn borer, and Bt potatoes for control of Colorado potato beetle.

"We are especially interested in the effect of the Bt toxin on natural enemies of crop pests, particularly those enemies that target crop pests that are not affected by the toxin," Ehler says.

More information a

Contact: Patricia Bailey
University of California - Davis

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