The National Botanical Research Institute developed pest resistant cotton variety. The cotton variety is to be field tested at the Center of Punjab Agriculture University, Ludhiana.
In 2015, the whiteflies devastated more than two-third cotton crops in Punjab. Of all the crops, cotton is the worst hit by whiteflies. Whiteflies are considered as the top 10 devastating pests in the world. They damage more than 2000 plant species.
Why not Bt Cotton?
When Bt cotton, a genetically modified crop already exists, why should scientists go for a new GM cotton crop? This is because, Bt cotton is resistant only to two pests and not to whiteflies.
In order to develop the pest resistant variety scientists have explored 250 plants. From these plants they have identified novel protein molecules that are harmful to whiteflies. Out of the 250 plants, the protein was found in Tectaria marcrodonta. This fern that causes toxicity in whiteflies is used as salad in Nepal.
How does it work?
When the fern enters the bloodstream of the whiteflies, it interferes with their life cycle. The insects start laying abnormal eggs resulting in extraordinary poor emergence of flies.
Whiteflies feed on the underside of plant leaves. They are common in warm tropical climates. They are more prevalent in greenhouses. The world economic losses due to whiteflies are estimated to be more than 100s of millions of dollars annually.
The Whiteflies feed into the phloem of the plants and secrete toxic saliva into them. Phloem are rich in sugar. This is because they are responsible for transporting sugar produced in leaves to different parts of the plants.