New spray developed for whitefly

BREAKTHROUGH: University of Queensland PhD candidate Ritesh Jain and BioClay research team leader Professor Neena Mitter have helped develop BioClay.
BREAKTHROUGH: University of Queensland PhD candidate Ritesh Jain and BioClay research team leader Professor Neena Mitter have helped develop BioClay.

A revolutionary new tool is coming in the fight against a pest that costs the global agricultural industry billions of dollars.

Silverleaf whitefly (Bemisia tabaci) is a big concern for Australia's cotton industry as it can contaminate and downgrade lint quality.

It is also a problem for pulse producers and the horticultural industry, attacking more than 500 plant species.

The pest produces a honeydew when feeding that causes sooty mould to grow on leaves, damaging cotton lint as well as fruit and vegetable produce.

Controlling silverleaf whitefly has proven difficult due to its ability to quickly develop resistance to traditional chemical pesticides.

That's why scientists at The University of Queensland have spent the past decade developing BioClay, an environmentally friendly spray able to target and kill this pest.

Research team leader Professor Neena Mitter said BioClay would be a game-changer for crop protection.

"Silverleaf whitefly is considered an invasive species in the United States, Australia Africa and several European countries and attacks more than 500 plant species including cotton, pulses, chilli, capsicum, and many other vegetable crops," Professor Mitter said.

"The insect lays eggs on the underside of the leaves and the nymphs and adults suck the sap from the plant, which results in reduced yields."

Silverleaf whitefly also poses a threat to otherwise healthy crops as it can transmit a variety of viruses.

So how does BioClay work?

It is a spray that uses degradable clay particles to carry double-stranded RNA, which enters and protects the plant without altering the plant's genome.

Professor Mitter said this was the first time the BioClay platform has been used to target sap sucking insect pests.

"When whiteflies try to feed on the sap, they also ingest the dsRNA, which kills the insect by targeting genes essential to its survival," she said.

" RNA will also revolutionise the agricultural industry."

The research is being published this month in the scientific journal, Nature Plants.

SHARE