Location: Emerging Pests and Pathogens ResearchTitle: Development of genetic and genomic resources for the ARS entomopathogenic fungi collection
Submitted to: Meeting Abstract
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 6/1/2023
Publication Date: N/A
Technical Abstract: The USDA-ARS Entomopathogenic Fungi (ARSEF) culture collection is the largest and most comprehensive repository of entomopathogenic fungi in the world. The mission of ARSEF is bolstered by deposition of strains and data by researchers and stakeholders. It represents a significant resource for the identification and development of microbial biocontrol agents targeting agricultural pests, housing over 14,000 fungi and protistan microorganisms isolated from insects, spiders, nematodes, mites, and other invertebrates. Optimizing use of these organisms for biocontrol requires selection of strains with suitable host specificity (i.e., small non-target effects on other insects) that are not toxic to humans and other wildlife. Associated metadata on pathogen host-associations, substrate, and collection location can guide initial selection of appropriate strains for development, but the predictive value of this information for biocontrol efficacy is limited. A better understanding of the genetic basis of biocontrol phenotypes and a phylogenomic framework for predicting them is required. This understanding can also support genetic modifications of fungal strains, offering new avenues to enhance biocontrol, including improved virulence, host-specificity, and survival in field settings. Entomopathogenic fungi continue to garner intense research and applied interest across multiple sectors, with increasing information generated annually on their efficacy, chemical repertoires, and genetic content. In particular, the genomes of entomopathogenic fungi are now routinely assembled without centralization of these impactful resources. We are developing a pipeline for synthesizing publicly available genomic, genetic, and biochemical resources for ARSEF isolates and developing best practices for the generation and sharing of biological control phenotypic data. This synthesis will provide a broad foundation for evaluating potential uses of entomopathogenic fungi in this growing collection. We envision these resources will enable researchers to more efficiently identify genetic factors underlying key biocontrol phenotypes, expedite the selection of successful biocontrol agents, and facilitate genetic manipulations to improve effectiveness.