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Lower application of insecticides by the production of insect-resistant crops using novel protease inhibitor genes

Contract nr: FAIR-CT98-4239
Project nr: 4239
Project type: SC
Starting date: 01/01/1999
Duration: 36 months
Total cost: 1,783,224 EUR
EC Contribution: 1,218,800 EUR
Scientific Officer: Massimo BURIONI
Research topic: Plant health

Losses of agricultural production due to pests and diseases have been estimated at 37% in Europe and world-wide. At present, crop protection relies predominantly on the use of agrochemicals. In the future, it is necessary to better safeguard the environment and to develop sustainable agricultural systems. Such systems will have decreased inputs of energy and chemicals, and will not generate harmful outputs such as pesticide residues. To achieve this objective, it is necessary to enhance the resistance of plants to pests and pathogens. Whilst some success has been achieved towards this aim using conventional plant breeding techniques, the new technology of plant genetic engineering offers the opportunity of introducing resistance genes from foreign species into crop plants, thus increasing the available gene pool. Several of these transgenic crops have already been brought from the US to European markets in 1996 and 1997.

It is the aim of this proposal to develop similar products for European farmers, in order to increase their competitiveness by decreasing their needs to spray insecticides. At present, the main strategy to develop insect- resistant plants via genetic engineering is based on the use of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxin genes. This has resulted in transgenic crops with a high resistance to specific insects. In order to increase the range of insects which can be controlled (Bt toxins have a narrow activity spectrum), it is necessary to also use other insecticidal genes, like protease inhibitor (Pl) genes. Transgenic crops, including rice, expressing foreign PIs, show reduced predation by their natural pests. It is now necessary to further develop protease inhibitors that are broadly active against all proteases that insects in nature use to overcome protease inhibitor defence of their host plant. The proposed three-year project specifically targets six major coleopteran (Colorado potato beetle, corn rootworm), lepidopteran (corn earworm, beet armyworm), homopteran (aphids) and thysanopteran pests (western flower thrips), which are mostly polyphagous on many major European crops. The proposed project concentrates on potato, tomato, maize and melon.

The four academic partners of the consortium have extensive knowledge of the gut protease physiology of these insects and recent progress has made it clear that PIs with broad range insecticidal activity against insects can be found. The overall objective of the proposed project is to significantly lower the need for European farmers to apply insecticide, by producing insect-resistant crops using novel protease inhibitor genes. This objective is achieved by:
1) selecting second generation protease inhibitors (novel PIs) from novel sources (unrelated organisms, synthetic libraries or insect haemolymph) with maximum effectiveness against the six selected target pests;
2) introducing novel PIs into four important European crop plants;
3) demonstrating, in the field or greenhouse, that a substantial reduction in the application of insecticides can be achieved.

Current situation/results:
not yet for the public domain

Maarten Anthonie JONGSMA
Plant Research International
Droevendaalsesteeg 1
NL-6708 PB Wageningen
Tel.: +31 317 47 70 01
Fax: +31 317 41 80 94


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    INRA Versailles
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    University of Durham University by Royal Charter
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    Biogemma Sas Subsidiary Company of Limagrain Group and Pau Euralis Group
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    Universita' Degli Studi Di Bari
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