The Genomics in Agricultural Pest Management (GAP-M) group is an international consortium featuring researchers from Canada, Spain, Belgium, France, and USA, led by Dr. Miodrag Grbić of The University of Western Ontario. The GAP-M project focuses on the study of plant and spider mite genomics to develop strategies to reduce spider mite damage and increase crop yield.
Spider mites are one of the major pests in agriculture. They feed on more than 1000 different plant species and destroy many crops such as corn, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, apples, pears, and strawberries to name a few. One of the reasons spider mites are so destructive is their unique ability to feed on such a variety of plants. They have also developed resistance to pesticides and with only seven days from egg to adult, these pests present a major challenge in agriculture. With global warming and the ability of mites to multiply even faster in high temperatures, the damage spider mites cause to our field crops is likely to increase.
Spider mites cause yellow flecks on the leaf surface, and upon heavy infestation, leaves become pale, brittle and covered in webbing. This damage can cause severe reduction in crop yield. Currently, there are no cultivars resistant to spider mites.
Spider mites are particularly important pests for Canadian greenhouse vegetables. There are more than 1700 acres of greenhouse vegetables in Ontario alone, representing the greatest concentration of greenhouses in North America. Spider mites cause significant damage to greenhouse tomato, cucumber and pepper crops. Devastating effects of spider mites are also creating enormous problems for agricultural production in Southern Europe.
The GAP-M consortium utilizes the spider mite genome sequence data in order to create tools and technologies for new spider mite control strategies. The consortium is a multidisciplinary group that combines genomics, bioinformatics, genetics, biochemistry, population biology, plant biotechnology and plant breeding, in order to:
- Annotate the genome of the spider mite (T. urticae) and develop a spider mite whole genome expression microarray;
- Analyze natural variation of plant resistance to spider mites using high-throughput genomic technologies;
- Perform pest transcriptome profiling to characterize the consequences of feeding on resistant and susceptible plants;
- Create pest-resistant transgenic plants targeting various pest genes;
- Test the efficiency of the transgenic plants on pests and non-target organisms.
The consortium also includes experts in law and food science to study the ethical, environmental, economic, legal and social aspects related to the scientific research in order to develop best practices for intellectual property and material transfer agreement management and study public perception.
The consortium aims to develop novel, environmentally sound pest control strategies that will replace chemical pesticides and will reduce environmental pollution and energy consumption in agriculture.