September 16, 2009

Modified soybean plants may control aphids

U.S. scientists seeking to avoid using pesticides in controlling soybean aphids are considering genetically modifying soybeans to prevent aphid damage.

Iowa State University Professors Bryony Bonning and Allen Miller say if their research is successful, soybeans will carry in-plant protection from aphids, similar to the way genetically modified corn now keeps the European Corn Borer from reducing corn yields.

The researchers said their goal is to support development of technologies with commercial potential and to support the growth of companies using those technologies. The researchers are working with Pioneer Hi-Bred, a DuPont business, as their corporate partner.

The research focuses on introducing a gene into soybeans that's harmless to mammals, but creates a toxin that is lethal to aphids. But to be effective, they said the toxin needs to be taken intact into the body cavity of the aphid, not broken down by the digestive system in the bug.

Miller and Bonning identified a plant virus coat protein eaten by soybean aphids that doesn't break down and goes into the aphid body cavity intact.

When the hybrid toxin coat protein is eaten by the aphid, the fatal toxin should get into the aphid body cavity intact.

The (potential) economic impact overall is huge, said Bonning. There will be less insecticide use, and also less fossil fuel used to apply the insecticides.