New Lygus trait could have unexpected benefits in cotton

Researchers have been calling it the Lygus trait because it was engineered to protect cotton from tarnished plant bugs (a Lygus species). Now they’re beginning to call it the Lygus and thrips trait, says Scott Stewart.

Dr. Stewart, entomologist with the West Tennessee Research and Education Center in Jackson, and other cotton researchers have been working with cotton containing the Bt Lygus gene complex ever since Monsanto brought it to the field for testing several years ago.

He can’t provide details or show data from the tests, but he was allowed to show growers attending the 17th annual Union City Field Day held by Monsanto in Union City, Tenn., a photo of a field planted to cotton containing different strains of the Lygus gene. The cotton in the field was not treated for tarnished plant bugs.

“What I wanted to show you here was these kind of darker squares that don’t seem to have much cotton in them,” said Dr. Stewart. “That’s the non-traited cotton. Everything around it is traited cotton from a different event that we’re evaluating.

“So, clearly, there is some impact on tarnished plant bugs. It’s not like Bt cotton is on tobacco budworms, but it’s certainly a tool that we’re interested in evaluating.”

During the course of the testing in Jackson and other locations, researchers noticed the trait seemed to be having an impact on thrips. “And this is something that has a lot of us honestly pretty excited.”

He showed photos of untreated cotton, cotton with seed treatments and cotton containing the Lygus trait. The cotton that did not contain the trait, had no insecticide seed treatments and received no foliar sprays displayed severe thrips damage.

The second photo of non-traited cotton had an insecticide seed treatment and a foliar spray of acephate. “So this would be kind of our standard approach,” said Stewart. “You can see this cotton looks considerably better, the leaves aren’t just gnarled balls, but they’re not pretty, either. So we’re definitely seeing some thrips injury there.”

Stewart then displayed the photo of Lygus traited cotton without a seed treatment and no foliar spray. “If you look at that, those leaves are quite pristine,” he said.

The new technology is continuing to be evaluated by Monsanto and a number of university cooperators, “and I can tell you we’re all pretty impressed.”

Monsanto currently lists the technology under the name Cotton Lygus but says it is being investigated for control of Lygus and thrips. It’s listed in Stage 3 or Advanced Product Development in Monsanto’s Cotton Product Pipeline.

“This is somewhere down the road – we may be talking five, six or seven years,” says Stewart. It’s impressive technology, and it’s important to us now because we’re seeing issues with seed treatments controlling thrips.”

When he spoke in Union City in early August, Stewart advised growers not to stop scouting soybeans for late-season insect pests.

“Growers are getting close to harvesting corn and then cotton, but these (soybeans in background) have a ways to go,” he noted. “I’ve been in some fields that were real train wrecks because the growers stopped watching what was happening in their soybeans.”

For more information on Monsanto’s cotton product pipeline, go to http://www.monsanto.com/products/pages/cotton-pipeline.aspx

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