Over the past decade, scientists at the Institute of Plant Sciences (IPS) at the University of Bern have unraveled the mechanisms that explain the success of western corn rootworm, a serious agicultural pest, including how it resists the attack of biological control agents such as entomopathogenic nematodes (parasitic roundworms), and their associated bacterial partners.
"We hypothesized that by improving the capacity of the pathogenic bacteria associated to the parasitic roundworms to resist benzoxazinoids, we may be able increase the lethality of this deadly symbiotic pair against western corn rootworm larvae", says Dr. Ricardo Machado from the Institute of Plant Sciences (IPS) at the University of Bern, who led the study. The researchers collected parasitic roundworms from all around the world, isolated their pathogenic bacterial partners and exposed them to high doses of benzoxazinoids for several generations.
Closing the gap between fundamental science and sustainable agriculture
Thanks to a collaboration with Prof. Dr. Helge Bode from the Institute for Molecular Biosciences of the Goethe University Frankfurt and Prof. Dr. Siegfried Hapfelmeier from the Institute of Infectious Diseases (IFIK) of the University of Bern within the Interfaculty Research Cooperation One Health, the scientists also identified the genetic mechanism that allows selected bacteria to resist benzoxazinoids.
The results of the study are particularly relevant for the biological control of agricultural pests. "We are very much looking forward to testing our approach in an agriculturally realistic field setting, and, in the long run, to contribute to a more sustainable, pesticide-free crop production," concludes Dr. Ricardo Machado.