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Sex and diamonds-research to benefit Australia

CSIRO : 19 December, 2002  (Technical Article)
The sex pheromones of the diamondback moth and a fungus may save Australia millions of dollars. The diamondback moth is a serious threat to vegetable production, especially Brassicas such as cabbages, cauliflowers and other related greens.
CSIRO's Dr Richard Vickers is an expert on pheromones, the naturally occurring scents which insects use to control their mating cycle.

As part of $2.5 million for research funded under the Federal Government's Backing Australia's Ability Innovation Access Programme announced by Science Minister Peter McGauran last week, CSIRO has been funded to work collaboratively with researchers in several European Union nations on novel integrated pest management ideas.

The research will target new microbial control products based on fungal pathogens aimed at controlling three key insect pests of Brassica vegetables.

Project leader, pheromone expert Dr Richard Vickers of CSIRO Entomology in Brisbane, says that one target in particular, diamondback moth, is a major threat to Brassica production in Australia.

'We aim to ensure that the fungal pathogens are disseminated by the pests themselves to others in the population,' says Dr Vickers. 'This is known as 'auto-dissemination' and it offers significant advantages over the chemical insecticides in current use, both in terms of environmental and economic sustainability and avoidance of resistance problems.'

The project will enable Dr Vickers to use his expertise, by designing an inoculation chamber which will infect the pest insects with a lethal dose of an insect-specific fungal pathogen.

Dr Vickers says that the design of the new inoculation chamber is critical to the success of the project. The chamber has to have a number of features, including trapping the insects for sufficient time to become infected as well as providing the correct climate in terms of humidity and low UV light levels to ensure that the pathogen will survive in it for a reasonable length of time.

'And, of course, cost will be factor in its eventual take up, so we need to keep it as simple as possible,' says Dr Vickers.

'For that reason, we are especially keen to ensure that this project benefits Australia through increased market opportunities for SME's that adopt the technology,' says Dr Vickers.

'And working collaboratively with leaders in this field in Europe will lead to improvements to our research capacity and our ability to develop novel control strategies for other pests.'
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