On the Front Lines of Insect Resistance

On the Front Lines of Insect Resistance

Make no mistake – insect resistance is a serious threat. But hopefully, this six-legged problem is no match for researchers such as Michigan State University professor Felicia Wu.

Wu uses mathematical modeling to find unique solutions to agriculture issues, including the human health effects of agriculture. For example, some of her research is focused on how irrigation affects aflatoxin exposure and malaria incidence in Malawi, or how food safety regulations affect world food trade patterns.

Lately, Wu also has corn rootworms in her crosshairs. The project intends to develop an agent-based model – where the insects and corn plants are modeled as the “agents” in the system – of how corn rootworm develops resistance to the crystal proteins in transgenic Bt corn that are meant to protect the corn from CRW damage, she says.

“We also will model strategies that growers can adapt to delay resistance to determine which strategies may be most effective,” she says. “To our knowledge, this is the first-ever use of an agent-based model on both insects and corn plants to predict how insects develop resistance to Bt corn under different field conditions.”

Wu was one of six recipients who were awarded research grants as part of Monsanto’s Insect Management Knowledge Program (IMKP). The program, which started in early 2013 as the Corn Rootworm Knowledge Program, provides merit-based awards of up to $250,000 per award per year for up to three years for outstanding research. The program wants to enhance the collective understanding of insect management and address significant challenges and issues in agriculture as they arise.

The six awards granted focus on a number of insect threats, including whitefly, soybean aphid and corn earworm resistance. Other recipients include Peter Ellsworth (University of Arizona), Jeff Gore (Mississippi State University), Matthew O’Neal (Iowa State University), Tom Coudron (USDA-ARS) and Phillip Zamore (University of Massachusetts).

“This IMKP grant will allow us to move our laboratory-based studies of the molecular mechanisms of gene silencing in insects into an actual field testing setting, which I couldn’t do with more traditional biomedical research funding agencies,” Zamore says.

For more information on IMKP, and these six researchers and their projects, click here.

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