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According to several articles published in April, a group of Australian scientists from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) has drawn the Australian government's attention to the risk posed by the appearance of a new tomato pest. According to the researchers, a new hybrid caterpillar is seriously threatening tomato crops throughout the world.
This new threat is reportedly the result of hybridization between two worms that are known to be majorly destructive to crops, producing a new reinforced species that has developed resistances to most pesticides.
One of these pests, the bollworm, which is widespread in Africa, Asia and Europe, causes damage to a wide range of crops, including corn, cotton, tomato and soybean. The cost of these damages and of measures to fight against the pest has been estimated at several billion dollars per year. It is extremely mobile and has developed a resistance to all pesticides used against it. The other pest, the corn earworm, is originally from the Americas and presents a relatively limited range of resistances and hosts. However, it is a source of major concern that these two insects have combined into one single hybrid with a geographical distribution that knows no boundaries.
In an article published in the Acta of the National Academy of Sciences in the USA, CSIRO researchers have clearly demonstrated the hybridization of these two moths in Brazil.
The scientists have shown that in the group of caterpillars studied, each individual was genetically distinct, suggesting "a ‘hybrid swarm’ where multiple versions of different hybrids can be present within one population," explained Tom Walsh, one of the members of the CSIRO team of scientists.
Although a combination of insecticides is currently effective against these pests in Australia, it is important to study the insects themselves in order to draw up a long-term and sustainable global management plan.
“A hybrid such as this could go completely undetected should it invade another country. It is critical that we look beyond our own backyard to help fortify Australia’s defense and response to biosecurity threats,” declared Paul De Barro, who is Director of research for the CSIRO evaluation program designed to prepare against biosecurity threats.
Project Director Craig Anderson warned against the consequences of this new species for crops around the world.