Invasive insect pests are a major challenge for agriculture in British Columbia. Insects introduced from other parts of the world can cause major crop yield losses and keeping them at non-damaging levels often requires the application of costly and non-specific chemical pesticides until more sustainable management methods can be developed.
Spotted wing Drosophila (SWD), which arrived in British Columbia in 2009, lays its eggs in small fruits (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, cherries, strawberries), causing them to rot and become unmarketable. There are currently no effective, specific, and environmentally friendly tools to reliably manage this pest.
Biopesticides (highly specific pesticides formulated from microbes that infect insects) have been successfully used as biological control agents of other pests. However, the development of virus-based biopesticides for use against SWD requires basic knowledge of what viruses infect this pest and whether their microbiome might protect them against virus attack.
This project will look to identify what viruses infect SWD (and determine to what degree) in different fruit crops and natural habitats in BC. The presence and activity of Wolbachia, a symbiotic bacterium, which protects SWD against viruses, will also be investigated. As well, the project aims to breed SWD-adapted viruses to improve their effectiveness against SWD, and to determine how viral genomes change in response to this selection and to interactions with protective Wolbachia and vice versa.
The information gathered by this project will help build a foundation for the development of biopesticides to help fruit growers manage SWD.