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Restoring a natural root signal helps to fight a major corn pest
Date:8/3/2009

A longstanding and fruitful collaboration between researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology and the University of Neuchtel in Switzerland, together with contributions from colleagues in Munich and the US, has produced another first: the successful manipulation of a crop plant to emit a signal that attracts beneficial organisms. Genetic transformation of maize plants resulted in the release of the naturally active substance (E)-beta-caryophyllene from their roots. The substance attracts nematodes that attack and kill larvae of the Western corn rootworm, a voracious root pest. In field tests, the enhanced nematode attraction resulted in reduced root damage and considerably fewer surviving rootworms. Further fine-tuning of this natural defense strategy will allow for an environmentally friendly growing of maize with minimized use of synthetic insecticides. The project was carried out within the framework of the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR Plant Survival). (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, Early Edition, August 3𔃅, 2009)

The Western corn rootworm (Diabrotica virgifera virgifera) is the most damaging maize pest in the US and is responsible for enormous financial losses. Current methods to control the rootworm pest include insecticides, crop rotation and transgenic Bt maize lines that are not yet approved in Europe. After first invading the Balkans, the pest has since 2007 also been found in southern Germany. The corn rootworm larvae feed on root hairs and bore themselves into the maize roots. The results are devastating: The plants take up less water and nutrients, and with the root mass severely reduced the plants lodge and collapse. In areas in Germany where the corn rootworm is a potential threat, the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) establishes safety zones and enacts the use of the insecticide chlothianidine. In spring 2008 this insecticide was directly applied on the se
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Contact: Joerg Degenhardt
joerg.degenhardt@pharmazie.uni-halle.de
49-034-555-25100
Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology
Source:Eurekalert  

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