Self-limiting fall armyworm: a new approach in development for sustainable crop protection and resistance management

C. E. Reavey, A. S. Walker, S. P. Joyce, L. Broom, A. Willse, K. Ercit, M. Poletto, Z. H. Barnes, T. Marubbi, B. J. Troczka, D. Treanor, K. Beadle, B. Granville, V. de Mello, J. Teal, E. Sulston, A. Ashton, L. Akilan, N. Naish, O. Stevens, N. Humphreys-Jo,  BMC Biotechnology,  22:5. 2022.

Spodoptera frugiperda
Image Credit: Donald Hobern
CC BY 2.0

The fall armyworm, Spodoptera frugiperda, is a significant and widespread pest of maize, sorghum, rice, and other economically important crops. Successful management of this caterpillar pest has historically relied upon application of synthetic insecticides and through cultivation of genetically engineered crops expressing insecticidal proteins (Bt crops). Fall armyworm has, however, developed resistance to both synthetic insecticides and Bt crops, which risks undermining the benefits delivered by these important crop protection tools. Previous modelling and empirical studies have demonstrated that releases of insecticide- or Bt-susceptible insects genetically modified to express conditional female mortality can both dilute insecticide resistance and suppress pest populations. Here, we describe the first germline transformation of the fall armyworm and the development of a genetically engineered male-selecting self-limiting strain, OX5382G, which exhibits complete female mortality in the absence of an additive in the larval diet. Laboratory experiments showed that males of this strain are competitive against wild-type males for copulations with wild-type females, and that the OX5382G self-limiting transgene declines rapidly to extinction in closed populations following the cessation of OX5382G male releases. Population models simulating the release of OX5382G males in tandem with Bt crops and non-Bt ‘refuge’ crops show that OX5382G releases can suppress fall armyworm populations and delay the spread of resistance to insecticidal proteins. This article describes the development of self-limiting fall armyworm designed to control this pest by suppressing pest populations, and population models that demonstrate its potential as a highly effective method of managing resistance to Bt crops in pest fall armyworm populations. Our results provide early promise for a potentially valuable future addition to integrated pest management strategies for fall armyworm and other pests for which resistance to existing crop protection measures results in damage to crops and impedes sustainable agriculture.

Rapid invasion of Africa by Spodoptera frugiperda

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