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ARS Home » Southeast Area » Stoneville, Mississippi » Genomics and Bioinformatics Research » Research » Research Project #439472

Research Project: Establishing Critical Genomic Infrastructure to Manage Desert Locust Outbreaks in Africa

Location: Genomics and Bioinformatics Research

Project Number: 6066-21310-005-053-I
Project Type: Interagency Reimbursable Agreement

Start Date: Oct 1, 2020
End Date: Sep 30, 2021

The desert locust, Schistocerca gregaria, is the most dangerous and widespread migratory pest species in the world due to a combination of its long distance migration ability and rapid reproduction that may result in 20-fold population increases in a single generation (3 months). Locust upsurges and plagues affect one in ten people on Earth, resulting in massive crop losses, costing hundreds of millions of dollars in control efforts. Its huge potential invasion area spans from West Africa to the Middle East, and Central Asia with devastation brought by plagues recorded throughout human history. As adults, locusts form swarms of billions of individuals that can travel 150 km a day under their own power and can cross vast expanses when wind-assisted, devastating huge expanses of vegetation including agricultural crops and farmlands. Desert locusts are generalist herbivores, eating a wide range of grasses, forbs, crops and tree leaves and widely impacting food security. During the last desert locust outbreak in Africa from 2003 to 2005, over $500 million was spent on control efforts. Advances in desert locust research and control could benefit by a reference quality genome.

Phase 1 will represent a major scientific achievement by generating the first reference-quality assembly for a locust species, which in turn would be the largest insect genome sequenced to such a high level (locust 8.6 Gb, human 3 Gb, bee 0.25 Gb). Research groups from around the world will have open and equal access to the genome and transcriptomes generated as part of this effort to inform our understanding of locust behavior, physiology and other insects by comparison. These data will be transformative for basic research on olfaction (smell), taste, digestion, immunity, pesticide detoxification and gregarization (swarm formation) pathways. That information in turn will lead to the identification of target sites in the locust’s genome for molecular-based control measures. Allowing a large number of research groups to study these topics will act as an effective multiplier of our own research efforts, and will lead to new avenues of research towards controlling swarming.