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Ancestor’s microbiome may help corn resist insect pests


Texas A&M AgriLife scientists are working to enhance corn’s resistance to insects such as fall armyworm by transplanting beneficial microbes found in corn’s resilient ancestor, teosinte.

The work is urgently needed because fall armyworm, western corn rootworm and other insects are becoming increasingly impervious to existing control methods. Corn is among the most planted and essential crops around the world. In the U.S. alone, western corn rootworm causes more than $1 billion in damage to corn crops each year. Insects’ resistance to pesticides can lead to ramped-up pesticide use, which can create environmental problems.

By focusing on beneficial microbes from teosinte, the Texas A&M AgriLife research team aims to create an environmentally friendly insect control method specifically suited to corn.

The research was funded this summer by a $199,892 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The grant builds on a seed grant from the Collaborative Research Grant Program of Texas A&M University and the Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología, a Mexican government agency.

Leading the project is Julio Bernal, Ph.D., professor, Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Department of Entomology. Bernal is collaborating with Sanjay Antony-Babu, Ph.D., an AgriLife Research assistant professor with the Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology, and Thomas Isakeit, Ph.D., professor and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service specialist, also with the Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology.

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