An arm race between the insects and the plants
Cowpeas are an important food crop in Sub-Saharan Africa but yields are often reduced by more than 80 per cent due to pests and diseases.
Our team have generated and deployed in Nigeria the world first GM cowpea resistant to the lepidopteran Maruca vitrata. This pod-borer resistant (PBR) cowpea variety carries the Bt gene cry1Ab, and provides full-protection against the insect.
However, new improved versions of the PBR cowpea carrying more than one gene are needed in order to avoid the development of resistance in the insect populations. By stacking two or more Bt genes we will be able to produce a cowpea with long-lasting resistance.
A second generation of cowpeas
Our research team is now working on the development of a second generation of PBR cowpea carrying the cry1Ab and the cry2Ab genes. These genes were provided by Bayer Crop Science on a humanitarian basis. Smallholder farmers can access the new PBR varieties royalty free.
An elite cry2Ab transgenic line has been selected and successfully tested in Nigeria, Ghana and Burkina Faso, providing full protection against Maruca. This transgenics line is currently going through regulatory approval in Nigeria. The breeders from the partner organizations in Africa are already crossing this new line with the original PBR cowpea to generate the new PBRcoweaXTRA variety that will future proof the protections against the pod-borer.