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ARS Home » Northeast Area » Beltsville, Maryland (BARC) » Beltsville Agricultural Research Center » Invasive Insect Biocontrol & Behavior Laboratory » Research » Research Project #438966

Research Project: Biocontrol of Gypsy Moth and Other Lepidopteran Pests of the Northeast Area through Development of Microbial Pathogen-Based Biological Control

Location: Invasive Insect Biocontrol & Behavior Laboratory

Project Number: 8042-22000-315-014-S
Project Type: Non-Assistance Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: Sep 30, 2020
End Date: Dec 31, 2024

Gypsy moth is one of the most destructive pests of trees in the US, where European gypsy moth (EGM) (Lymantria dispar dispar) populations feed on over 300 forest, shade, ornamental, and fruit trees; and shrubs (Elkinton and Liebhold 1990), defoliating over 98 million acres of US forests from 1924 to 2018 (USDA Forest Service 2019). Control measures consist of mating suppression with pheromone and/or application of pathogens, either Bacillus thuringiensis bacteria or L. dispar multiple nucleopolyhedrovirus. Asian strains of gypsy moth (AGM) (L. dispar asiatica and japonica) have not yet established in the US but have been accidentally introduced many times in the past 29 years (USDA/APHIS/PPQ 2016). Because of their greater dispersal potential (females fly) and broader host range than EGM, AGM pose serious and increasing threats to US landscapes.

In the current project, in order to advance the use of Invasive Insect Biocontrol and Behaviour Laboratory (IIBBL) pathogen collections, gypsy moth and other lepidopteran pest full genomes, as well as to develop improved biopesticides for biological control of invasive pests, postdoctoral scientist(s) in IIBBL and in the Cooperator laboratories will screen, characterize, and test potential novel microbial (bacterial, viral, or molecular) biopesticide(s) against gypsy moth or other Lepidopteran pests of significance to the Northeast Area by the following approach: (1) Identify from IIBBL collections existing potential microbial pathogens capable of inducing detrimental effects, to be selected from: a) Bacteria B. thuringiensis (Bt): IIBBL possesses a collection of ~3500 partially characterized Bt isolates from around the world; several distinct isolates will be selected based on known characteristics and screened for lepidopteran activity. b) Bacteria Chromobacterium – recently obtained isolates from soil or aquatic habitats will be examined for insecticidal activity against Lepidoptera and characterized for genomic identity. c) Baculovirus DNA virus isolate: IIBBL possesses a large virus collection; isolates with improved insecticidal activity against gypsy moth or other Lepidoptera will be examined by screening and genetic characterization. d) Lepidopteran RNA viruses or dsRNAs identified with activity against Lepidopteran pests to be examined in vitro and in vivo. IIBBL’s virus collection contains RNA viruses and dsRNAs will be generated from known L. dispar genome targets. (2) Fully characterize molecular genetic content identified microbial pathogen(s) with promising lepidopteran activity through: a) Latest high-throughput genome methods for sequencing, assembly, and annotation (automated and manual); and b) Conduct comparison to known and/or related strains for identification of virulence features. (3) Analyze biological effects of microbial pathogens and/or associated biological phenomena of their interactions in vitro and/or in vivo delivered to gypsy moth larvae or other lepidopteran pests and evaluate efficacy: a) Analyze infection in vitro and in vivo using qRT-PCR or other methods, to identify molecular phenomena in single or dual pathogen infections; b) Conduct small scale laboratory bioassays to quantify activity and verify efficacy. If time allows, larger scale greenhouse, or small field/landscape trials using the most promising candidate(s) will be performed.