SALT LAKE CITY, Nov. 23, 2011 A University of Utah biologist and an international research team decoded the genetic blueprint of the two-spotted spider mite, raising hope for new ways to attack the major pest, which resists pesticides and destroys crops and ornamental plants worldwide.
The voracious mites, which technically are not insects, can eat more than 1,100 plant species a rare trait. The mites' newly revealed and sequenced genome contains a variety of genes capable of detoxifying pesticides as well as toxins plants use to defend themselves, the scientists report in the Thursday, Nov. 24 issue of the journal Nature.
"One key thing that makes spider mites unique is they can eat many, many different plant species," says Richard M. Clark, one of five main authors of the study and an assistant professor of biology at the University of Utah. "These mites are often house plant pests a major cause of people's house plants turning yellow and getting sick. They also are a major problem for agricultural nurseries and greenhouses, and for field crops."
Primary targets are tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, strawberries, corn, soybeans, apples, grapes and citrus.
Clark says the new study's "importance is largely in understanding how animals eat plants, with the long-term goal of developing effective ways to prevent crop damage from mites and insects. If we can identify the biological pathways mites use to feed on plants, we can potentially identify chemical and biological methods to disrupt those pathways and stop the mites from feeding."
The two-spotted spider mite, which is no more than 1 millimeter long, "is a major global pest, and is predicted to be a growing concern in a warming climate because they multiply extremely fast at high temperatures 90 degrees Fahrenheit or more," he adds. "They do really well in hot and dry climates like Utah."
Yet, the two-spotted spider mite "has been found to r
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University of Utah