Arthropod pests of agriculture are numerous and cause billions of dollars in lost revenue each year. Lepidopterans (caterpillars/moths/butterflies) account for a portion of this damage, impacting forests (douglas-fir tussock moth, pinyon tip moth, etc.), sagebrush (Webster moth), fruit, vegetable and ornamental plants (redbanded leafroller, Oriental fruit moth, several “cutworm” species, etc.), and row crops (corn earworm and numerous cutworm species among others).
Traditionally, control of these pests has relied on chemical applications or genetically modified crops containing Bacillus thuringensis toxins (Bt). However, insecticide resistance has emerged in response to these strategies and necessitates new control measures.
Numerous signaling neuro-hormones have been discovered in insects which regulate a wide variety of physiological processes, and the receptors of these neuro-hormones may represent a new and varied range of insecticide targets. However, knowledge of many of these neuro-hormones and their corresponding receptors in insects is rudimentary and functions for most are poorly known.
The long term goal of this project is to develop technologies to elucidate functions of signaling neuro-hormones in insects using comparisons between sets of protein synthesis messenger molecules, in addition to traditional molecular techniques. The information gained from this project will eventually be used to develop a chemical screening program to identify specific disruptors of the endocrine system in insects to be used as insecticides, or behavior-modifying compounds such as anti-feedants, that could contribute to insect pest management.
This project is investigating the neuro-endocrine signaling system of Manduca sexta, a model lepidopteran, in order to discover new targets for insecticide development. An improved understanding of the neuroendocrine system of this insect will lay the foundation for large-scale chemical screening projects that will be used to identify novel insecticides that circumvent current forms of insecticide resistance.