Skip to main content
ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Maricopa, Arizona » U.S. Arid Land Agricultural Research Center » Pest Management and Biocontrol Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #377220

Research Project: Sustainable Pest Management for Arid-Land Agroecosystems

Location: Pest Management and Biocontrol Research

Title: Transgenic cotton and sterile insect releases synergize eradication of pink bollworm a century after it invaded the United States

Author
item TABASHNIK, BRUCE - University Of Arizona
item LIESNER, LEIGHTON - Arizona Cotton Research And Protection Council
item ELLSWORTH, PETER - University Of Arizona
item UNNITHAN, GOPALAN - University Of Arizona
item Fabrick, Jeffrey
item Naranjo, Steven
item LI, XIANCHUN - University Of Arizona
item DENNEHY, TIMOTHY - University Of Arizona
item ANTILLA, LARRY - Arizona Cotton Research And Protection Council
item STATEN, ROBERT - Animal And Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS)
item CARRIERE, YVES - University Of Arizona

Submitted to: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences(PNAS)
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 11/18/2020
Publication Date: 1/5/2021
Citation: Tabashnik, B.E., Liesner, L.R., Ellsworth, P.C., Unnithan, G.C., Fabrick, J.A., Naranjo, S.E., Li, X., Dennehy, T.J., Antilla, L., Staten, R.T., Carriere, Y. 2021. Transgenic cotton and sterile insect releases synergize eradication of pink bollworm a century after it invaded the United States. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences(PNAS). 118(1). https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2019115118.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2019115118

Interpretive Summary: Invasive species are organisms introduced into non-native ecosystems, where they typically cause damage and are exceptionally difficult to remove once they become established. The pink bollworm (Pectinophora gossypiella), established in the United States in 1917, is one of the world’s most invasive insects and is a devastating pest of cotton. Here, ARS scientists at Maricopa, AZ and collaborators detail the approaches used to combat the pink bollworm, including releases of sterile insects from airplanes and cotton engineered to produce insecticidal proteins from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), and use computer simulations combined with 21 years of field data to demonstrate a multitactic program synergistically reduced the pest’s population from billions to none in the state of Arizona. Complementary regional efforts eradicated this pest from the continental United States a century after its arrival, saving farmers $192 million from 2014 to 2019 and eliminating the environmental and safety hazards associated with insecticide sprays previously used against it. This new knowledge shows a successful combination of transgenic Bt cotton and sterile insect releases was sufficient to eliminate a major arthropod pest on a regional scale and that similar measures could be useful against other important invasive insect pest species.

Technical Abstract: Invasive organisms pose a global threat and are exceptionally difficult to eradicate after they become abundant in their new habitats. We report a successful multitactic strategy for combating the pink bollworm (Pectinophora gossypiella), one of the world’s most invasive pests. A coordinated program in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico included releases of billions of sterile pink bollworm moths from airplanes and planting of cotton engineered to produce insecticidal proteins from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). An analysis of computer simulations and 21 y of field data from Arizona demonstrate that the transgenic Bt cotton and sterile insect releases interacted synergistically to reduce the pest’s population size. In Arizona, the program started in 2006 and decreased the pest’s estimated statewide population size from over 2 billion in 2005 to zero in 2013. Complementary regional efforts eradicated this pest throughout the cotton-growing areas of the continental United States and northern Mexico a century after it had invaded both countries. The removal of this pest saved farmers in the United States $192 million from 2014 to 2019. It also eliminated the environmental and safety hazards associated with insecticide sprays that had previously targeted the pink bollworm and facilitated an 82% reduction in insecticides used against all cotton pests in Arizona. The economic and social benefits achieved demonstrate the advantages of using agricultural biotechnology in concert with classical pest control tactics.