Insect Pests

Identifying novel targets for insect pest control

We are applying our expertise in insect nutritional physiology and bacterial symbiosis to identify and validate novel molecular targets for insect pest control. Plant sap feeding insects, including aphids and whiteflies, are increasingly important crop pests because they transmit plant viruses and can develop super-abundant populations, especially under no/low-insecticide regimes (e.g. organic crop production, Bt-crops resistant to chewing insect pests).

Targeting osmoregulation genes of the green peach aphid Myzus persicae (A). Disruption of gene function causes dehydration and early death (B). Key osmoregulatory genes localized to the gut (C & D). Micrographs of X. Jing, D. Price and A. Shakesby

A major focus of our research is the osmotic challenge faced by insects feeding on sugar-rich phloem sap. We have shown that sugar transformations and water cycling in the gut of these insects play a central role in osmoregulation: knock-down of the molecular functions underpinning osmoregulation by chemical inhibitors or RNAi causes the insects to dehydrate and die.

We are currently:
Investigating the molecular basis of natural variation in sugar utilization and osmotic function in the pea aphid, to identify additional molecular targets, and
Pursuing strategies to improve the efficacy of RNAi for phloem-feeding insects, both against known molecular targets and as a tool to validate other candidate targets.
We are also working with colleagues, as part of the NSF Research Coordination Network on Insect Genetic Technologies (IGTRCN) coordinated by Dr Dave O’Brochta, to develop genetic resources for hemipteran insects.

Selected Recent Publications

Full publication list

Scott JG, Michel K, Bartholomay L, Siegfried B, Hunter WB, Smagghe G, Zhu KY and Douglas AE, 2013. Towards the elements of successful RNAi. Journal of Insect Physiology 59: 1212-1221. Pubmed.
Wallace IS, Shakesby AJ, Hwang JH, Choi WG, Martinkova N, Douglas AE and Roberts DM, 2012. Acyrthosiphon pisum AQP2: a multifunctional insect aquaglyceroporin. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta - Biomembranes 1818: 627-635 Pubmed Link.
Shakesby AJ, Wallace IS, Isaacs HV, Pritchard J, Roberts DM and Douglas AE, 2009. A water-specific aquaporin involved in aphid osmoregulation. Insect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology 39, 1-10. Pubmed link
Price DRG, Karley AJ, Ashford DA, Isaacs HV, Pownall ME, Wilkinson HS, Gatehouse JA and Douglas AE, 2007. Molecular characterisation of a candidate gut sucrase in the pea aphid Acyrthosiphon pisum. Insect Biochemistry and Molecular Biology 37, 307-317. Pubmed

Financial Support

For financial support of our research, we thank:

AFRI-NIFA NYW-2011-04650 Osmoregulatory collapse to control phloem-feeding insect pests (with G. Jander, current)
Atkinson Venture Fund Implementing a novel control strategy against Bemisia whiteflies (with E.R. Turgeon and J. van Eck, current)