Decoded locust genome could help develop ‘intelligent pesticides’ that only kill crop-ravaging insects

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Credit: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images

The complete set of genetic information for the desert locust could have major international implications for countries in regions such as East Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and South-West Asia, which this year have suffered the worst desert locust crises in decades despite ongoing wide-spread control operations.

While locust swarms are infamous for the great damage they inflict to agriculture, their genetic material (‘genome’) is famed among researchers for its enormous size. At more than 8.8 billion base pairs of DNA (8.8 ‘giga-bases’), the desert locust genome is the largest insect genome sequenced to date and over 2.8 times larger than the human genome.

Dr Swidbert Ott, also from the University of Leicester’s Neuroscience, Psychology, and Behaviour department, added: “We do not yet understand the genetic instructions that make locusts behave so differently from ordinary grasshoppers, and to such damaging effect. Until now, a major stumbling block has been the lack of the desert locust genome sequence that holds the answer to what makes a grasshopper a locust.

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“We hope that our data can facilitate the development of novel, more sustainable methods of managing swarm outbreaks. With the information in our research now available, there is a unique opportunity for innovators to create an intelligent pesticide that targets locusts, but not other insects crucial to the ecosystem, such as pollinators.”

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