Cotton bollworm-corn earworm hybrid ‘megapest’ discovered in Brazil, could spread to US

H zea épi maïs bis
Image: CSIRO

It’s the stuff of science fiction. Hybridisation of two caterpillars in Brazil confirmed through extensive genomic testing by CSIRO researchers.

But it’s real and will enable the international agricultural community to stay ahead in the race to combat the megapest.

Helicoverpa armigera and Helicoverpa zea (commonly known as the cotton bollworm and corn earworm, respectively) are the world’s greatest caterpillar pests of broad-acre crops, causing in excess of US $5 billion in control costs and damage each year across Asia, Europe, Africa, America and Australia.

Researchers have used world-first genome mapping technology to confirm the bollworm has been spreading rapidly in Brazil and hybridising with the earworm.

The caterpillar is retaining the strongest characteristics of both species posing a real threat that the new and improved “superbug” could spread into the United States and cause widespread crop destruction.

The hybridisation research is outlined in a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (PNAS) journal….

“No two hybrids were the same suggesting a ‘hybrid swarm’ where multiple versions of different hybrids can be present within one population,” CSIRO scientist Dr Tom Walsh says.

Read full, original post: Hybridisation and the new frontier against spread of global pests

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