Peas With Built-In Weevil Resistance

May 28, 1998

CSIRO announced today (Thursday) that it has produced genetically modified peas almost one hundred per cent resistant to weevils, the most damaging pest of Australia's $100 million-a-year pea crop.

"Currently, growers spend up to $16 million a year on chemical insecticides to control the pea weevils. In our field trials, we've shown that the genetically modified peas are 99.5 per cent resistant to weevil attack - no insecticide required," says Dr TJ Higgins, CSIRO Plant Industry.

"We introduced into the peas a gene found in the common kidney bean which has a natural resistance to these seed-eating weevils.

"This gene produces a protein that blocks the normal digestion of seed contents by weevil larvae, so they don't grow and develop into adults," Dr Higgins says.

"Weevils can reduce yields by 25 to 30 per cent," says Dr Higgins. "Any sign of weevil damage will cause the peas to be downgraded in quality, with a corresponding reduction in value - no longer suitable for human consumption, the peas are fit for animal feed only."

"We've conducted field trials in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia in collaboration with the State Departments of Agriculture.

"We tested agronomic characteristics such as yield, and the genetically modified peas are identical to conventional peas in every way except in their susceptibility to insect attack," says Dr Higgins.

Having shown that the technique is successful in peas, the researchers will now attempt to apply the same method to other important food legumes such as chickpeas, cowpeas and mungbeans.

According to Dr Higgins, the significance of weevil attack is not limited to Australian crops.

"Weevils are particularly severe in developing countries - in Asia, the Indian subcontinent, Africa and South America. Subsistence farmers often need to store their harvested crops under poor conditions," he says.

"In these countries, a small weevil infestation in a storage bin can lead to near-total crop losses six months later," says Dr Higgins.

The CSIRO scientists are working in collaboration with scientists from the University of California and the Purdue University. The research is supported by growers through the Grains Research and Development Corporation.

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