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No safety in numbers for moths and butterflies
Date:5/10/2011

Scientists at the University of Leeds (UK) are to investigate how lethal viruses attack differently sized populations of moths and butterflies in research that may open the door to new methods of pest control.

The project, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, will study the grain-infesting Indian meal moth (Plodia interpunctella) and a virus it carries that is sometimes deadly to its host and sometimes not.

Dr Steve Sait from the University of Leeds and Professor Rosie Hails from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology hope to understand what criteria trigger the virus to become lethal. The work could help provide better ways to manage pests and invasive species.

The Indian meal moth is a significant problem around the world, attacking harvested crops such as cereals, rice, nuts and seeds and manufactured foods such as chocolate.

The Indian meal moth virus uses two forms of virus transmission vertical and horizontal. The virus is passed 'vertically' from parent to offspring, but 'horizontally' through contact between infected and healthy caterpillars in the same generation.

As vertical transmission requires the host to be alive to reproduce, it is used by non-lethal forms of the virus and can continue even when host population levels are low.

Lethal forms which kill a large percentage of the host caterpillars use horizontal transmission and require population levels to be high enough for it to spread. But how does the virus know when to change its methods?

Dr Steve Sait, Reader in Ecology at Leeds' Faculty of Biological Sciences, explains: "Moths and butterflies tend to have population peaks every few years and in between, survive with more limited numbers. Viruses should use vertical transmission when population density is low, but during population peaks, the same viruses can become more virulent and use horizontal transmission.

"We believe that changes in the host insects' physiology, perhaps
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Contact: Abigail Chard
abigail@campuspr.co.uk
44-113-258-9880
University of Leeds
Source:Eurekalert

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