Sep. 27, 2022
The Texas A&M Department of Entomology received $294,000 in grants to conduct research on pest management tools for cotton production.
The goal of the three-year research project, Modifying Terpene Biosynthesis in Cotton to Enhance Insect Resistance Using a Transgene-free CRISPR/CAS9 Approach, is to make plants more insect resistant. If successful, the project could help provide positive cost-benefit results to boost both the economy and the environment.
The project aims to silence genes in cotton that produce monoterpenes, chemicals that produce an odor that attracts insects. By removing the odor, scientists believe infestations should decrease.
Research to improve a plant’s ability to tolerate or resist pest insects through breeding programs is not a new idea. But editing genomes in plants is relatively new, and it is a rapidly advancing methodology.
Using CRISPR technology has become a feasible way to identify and influence plant characteristics.
The research project uses gene-editing technology to remove a characteristic from plants to make them more resistant to pests. It is the first research project that explores this technique.
″Insects are perpetually evolving resistance to whatever we throw at them,″ Greg Sword, Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientist, said. ″So, it’s important that our tools continue to evolve.″
The matching grant is from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Cotton Board.
The research team also received support and funding from Cotton Incorporated and credited them for jumpstarting the project.
Cotton production represents $2.4 billion of Texas’ gross domestic product. The Texas cotton industry supports over 40,000 jobs throughout the state and $1.55 billion in annual labor income.
Industry collaboration and public-private strategic support helps research dollars make the greatest impact for farmers.
″We value our long-standing relationship with Texas A&M and other institutions across the Cotton Belt because the work would not be done without their expertise,″ Bill Gillon, president and CEO of the Cotton Board, said.
The gene-editing research will emphasize sustainable practices and address relevant topics or concerns from public health to agricultural production.
″This grant project is a good example of how cotton producers, the gins and other elements of their industry effectively tax themselves to fund campaigns and research that adds value to what they produce,″ Phillip Kaufman, head of the Department of Entomology, said. ″It also shows the motivation from a public dollar perspective to invest in research focused on providing pest control methods that reduce chemical use.″