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ARS Home » Southeast Area » Fort Pierce, Florida » U.S. Horticultural Research Laboratory » Subtropical Insects and Horticulture Research » Research » Research Project #439251

Research Project: Exotic Whitefly and Subtropical Invasive Pests of Vegetables and Ornamental Plants

Location: Subtropical Insects and Horticulture Research

Project Number: 6034-22320-006-000-D
Project Type: In-House Appropriated

Start Date: Sep 11, 2020
End Date: Sep 10, 2025

Objective 1: Investigate the interactions of subtropical invasive pests of vegetables and ornamental crops (e.g., tomato, pepper, floriculture) with their natural enemies and use this information to develop biocontrol-based banker plant systems for environmentally sound pest management. [NP304, C3, PS3A, 3B and 3C] Sub-objective 1a: Expand the utility of the papaya banker plant system by incorporating predators and/or entomopathogenic fungi simultaneously or in combination with the parasitoid. Sub-objective 1b: Build a better banker plant through biotechnology by genetically engineering papaya to contain attributes that make it more suitable for banker plant use: i.e. nonflowering, papaya ringspot virus and powdery mildew resistant. Sub-objective 1c: Develop a mealybug banker plant system using ornamental muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris), the native mealybug (Stemmatomerinx acircula), and predatory beetles (Diomus austrinus, Cryptolaemus montrouzieri) for control of pest mealybugs. Objective 2: Investigate structural, physiological, molecular, and chemical aspects of whiteflies and identify inhibitor strategies/molecules such as but not limited to feeding disruptors and peptide inhibitors of disease transmission that can be used in the development of novel interdiction strategies envisioned to work either through production of transgenic plants or application of chemical treatments that block feeding/disease transmission. [NP304, C3, PS3A, 3B and 3C] Sub-objective 2a: Identify interdiction molecules that can be expressed in transgenic or Plant-Host Activated-Cell Transplantation (PHACT) adapted plants for controlling hemipteran insects and their transmitted diseases. Sub-objective 2b: Development of transgenic vegetables and ornamentals with increased resistance to hemipteran pest insects and/or their transmitted diseases Sub-objective 2c: Plant-Host Activated-Cell Transplantation (PHACT) as a strategy to induce plant resistance to hemipteran insects and their transmitted diseases.

This project focuses on two control strategies for whitefly and subtropical invasive. The first approach will be the development of banker plant systems for whitefly and mealybug management that will be used to establish, augment and increase the numbers of natural enemies in vegetable and ornamental production. We will expand the utility of the papaya banker plant system to include general predators and/or entomopathogenic fungi to enhance the pest control capability of the system by increasing the number and diversity of pests controlled. We will construct a nonflowering papaya banker plant through biotechnology that is both Papaya ringspot virus and powdery mildew resistant to increase the utility of the banker plant system. Mealybug banker plant systems will be developed to provide viable biologically control alternatives for environmentally sound pest management for nursery, greenhouse ornamental and vegetable growers. The second approach focuses on the development of a biological interdiction strategy through identification of entomotoxic biomolecules (primarily peptides) that target the pest insect or the transmitted pathogen and delivering these molecules either through transgenic expression or through a novel Plant-Host Activated-Cell Transplantation (PHACT) organoid-biofactory strategy. The outcomes of this research range from development of improved and sustainable IPM strategies employing banker plant systems to identification of new biologically-based control strategies incorporating either resistant transgenic plants or deployment of an engineered plant organoid biofactory system for hemipteran pest insect control.