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ARS Home » Southeast Area » Houma, Louisiana » Sugarcane Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #290784

Research Project: Developing Integrated Weed and Insect Management Systems for Efficient and Sustainable Sugarcane Production

Location: Sugarcane Research

Title: Mendel’s legacy lives through management of sugarcane pests

item White, William
item Allsopp, P

Submitted to: International Society of Sugar Cane Technologists Proceedings
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: 1/29/2013
Publication Date: 6/24/2013
Citation: White, W.H., Allsopp, P.G. 2013. Mendel’s legacy lives through management of sugarcane pests. Proceedings of the International Society of Sugar Cane Technologists. 28:128-139.

Interpretive Summary: As a relatively obscure abbot in a relatively obscure central European monastery, Gregor Mendel did not know about chromosomes or DNA, nor did he know about genes as we do today. However, he performed many experiments in which he controlled the breeding of his pea plants. By observing the number and types of phenotypes in the offspring plants, he developed the rules of inheritance now known as Mendel's laws. It is that work that has laid the foundation of modern genetics. Genetics plays an important role not only in the development of insect-resistant varieties of sugarcane, through both conventional and transgenic breeding, but also in diagnostics and taxonomy that lead to better understanding of the biology, ecology and status of sugarcane pests. In this paper, we discuss recent advances in breeding for pest resistance in the areas of both conventional and molecular approaches. We also show how modern, genetics-based diagnostics have been used to provide reliable methods for differentiating groups of morphologically and ecologically similar pests such as canegrubs and borers, provide tools to better understand differences in biology, pest status and effectiveness of parasites in some borer populations, and to explain failures in classical biocontrol programs against borers. This paper, as part of a larger plenary symposium, will provide conferees a better appreciation of the legacy that Mendel’s early work has played in the advancement of sugarcane technology.

Technical Abstract: Entomology and classical Mendelian genetics have had a long association and Mendel’s legacy continues to live through sugarcane pests. In this paper, we discuss examples of that legacy as applied to conventional and molecular approaches to breeding for insect resistance. We also discuss the application of genetics in pest management, systematics, and ecology. Conventional breeding for insect resistance is likely to continue to lag behind other traits as the realities of the high costs associated with a conventional breeding program and complexity of the sugarcane genome will continue to hold sway. Molecular breeding techniques offer many opportunities to overcome those limitations; however, the cost associated with this technology is high and gains that are obtained in pest management must be compared to more conventional strategies. Additionally, before the release of transgenic sugarcane with insect resistance can occur, various scientific, legislative, and public perception issues must be addressed. Many sugarcane industries lacking the resources are simply unable to overcome these obstacles. Genetic methods have revolutionised insect taxonomy and provided the means for rapid identification of closely related species, often without access to identified specimens. This is now impacting on our understanding of the ecology and biology of sugarcane pests and their natural enemies. Crop plants and pest insects can be genetically modified but paratransgenesis of closely associated microorganisms may allow better targeting and delivery of insecticidal compounds. Again, scientific, legislative, and public perception issues must be addressed.