Brown coloured caterpillar (Helicoverpa larva) on a green cotton leaf

Larvae of Helicoverpa armigera are the main insect pests of cotton crops.

Are moths choosy about their sexual partners?

Reference: 06/194

Dr Sharon Downes has won an Australian Government Science and Innovation Awards for Young People in Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry to investigate whether female bollworms are choosy about which of their sexual partners father their offspring.

  • 11 October 2006

The prize, worth up to A$10,000 in research funding, is sponsored by the Cotton Research and Development Corporation and was announced at a ceremony at Parliament House this evening (11 October) by the Hon Peter McGauran, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

Dr Downes, who is part of the Cotton Catchment Communities CRC, won the award for her research into bollworm resistance to genetically modified (GM) cotton proteins and the impact of mating patterns on resistance within a moth population.

Before the introduction of GM cotton, the bollworm cost the Australian industry at least $225 million in control costs and production losses every year.

“GM cottons express proteins that kill bollworms. They became available to Australian growers in 1996, but there is still concern about development of resistance,” Dr Downes says.

Dr Downes is investigating whether bollworm resistance to the GM cotton proteins is increasing. One of the key factors in resistance within a moth population is mating patterns.

"Dr Downes will investigate whether female bollworms are choosy about which of their sexual partners father their offspring."

“Part of the plan for holding off resistance relies on the assumption that any resistant insects developing on GM crops will mate randomly with non-resistant insects, thus ‘diluting’ resistance in the insect population,” Dr Downes says.

“However, studies of other insects have shown that females may choose who fathers their offspring and there can be a bias toward resistant or non-resistant males”.

Using careful mating and DNA fingerprinting, Dr Downes will investigate whether female bollworms are choosy about which of their sexual partners father their offspring. This will allow scientists to weigh up an important part of current risk management.

“The award will allow me to focus on a research question that I find exciting and which also has a valuable application to a receptive rural industry. The work is linked to providing a safer and cleaner environment for rural people and supports sustainable practices,” Dr Downes says.

The Science and Innovation Awards for Young People in Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry aim to encourage people between the ages of 18 and 35 to use science, technology and innovation to advance the future of agriculture, fisheries, forestry, food and natural resource management industries.

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