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Science Update

Cotton bollworm. Click here for full photo caption.
Cotton bollworm.

Cotton Bollworm Virus in Final ARS Field Test

Wild geraniums and a virus could tame cotton bollworms in the Mississippi Delta. In spring, geraniums growing in nontilled areas serve as nurseries for bollworms that later mature and invade cotton. Insecticide costs and crop losses run to tens of millions of dollars. But ARS scientists just finished a 2-year test using a natural virus on 210,000 acres of wild geraniums and other noncrop plants. Bollworm nuclear polyhedrons virus harms no organism except cotton-attacking bollworms and budworms, which it kills within 10 days. Earlier, ARS obtained U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approval to manufacture the virus as a bioinsecticide. Scientists extracted virus from 17 million lab-reared bollworms to supply enough for aerial sprays. In 1994, virus killed 85 percent of larvae in the test area. This fall, scientists will have 1995 results. Then they can gauge the feasibility of using virus to protect the 1 million acres of Mississippi cotton planted in the Delta. Virus could be supplied by a private firm and applied through growers' cooperation.

USDA-ARS Southern Insect Management Research Unit, Stoneville, Mississippi, phone (662) 686-5231.

ARS Signs 500th R&D Agreement

In 1987, ARS signed the very first Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) authorized under the Federal Technology Transfer Act of 1986. The Act eased conversion of public-funded research into market-ready products and processes. In July 1995, a pest-killing fungus became the subject of ARS' 500th CRADA. The agreement is with Mycotech Corp., of Butte, Montana. It centers on an ARS scientist's unique process for mass-culturing a Mycotech strain of a natural fungus that kills silverleaf whiteflies. The pests attack 600 plant species and annually cause $250 million crop losses in Texas, Florida, and California alone. Compared to available processes, the new one rapidly produces more fungi, and they stay viable when dried for packaging. Earlier this year, the EPA approved commercial use of another fungus. It was developed as a wettable powder under a different CRADA between Mycotech and ARS researchers in Weslaco, Texas.

Mark A. Jackson, USDA-ARS National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research, Peoria, Illinois; phone (309) 681-6541.

Researchers Explore Rain Forest Chemicals

Extracts from plants and microorganisms of Latin American rain forests will be explored as potential new products under a new CRADA. Environmentally friendly biopesticides and pharmaceuticals could emerge from the CRADA between ARS and Pharmacogentics, Inc., of Bethesda, Maryland. ARS and Pharmacognetics scientists will isolate and identify biologically active compounds in the extracts. Collectors—mainly South American botanists and ethnobotanists—will supply researchers with materials having traditional farm and medical uses. The company plans profit sharing with countries that are sources of new biological products.

USDA-ARS Natural Products Utilization Research Unit, University, MS 38677; phone (662) 915-1036.

Lake Getting Cleaner Water

Lakes polluted by farmland runoff can get a new lease on life, ARS researchers showed. For more than a decade, they tracked pollution in Arkansas' Lake Chicot. It is surrounded by 360 square miles of cotton, soybeans, and rice. The ARS study examined how excess farm chemicals, suspended sediment, and other pollutants washing into the lake could harm water quality. In 1985, the scientists arrived at a solution, in cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This included diverting storm water around the lake and channeling cleaner water into it. Water quality improved, rejuvenating the lake's recreation and fisheries.

Charlie Cooper, USDA-ARS National Sedimentation Laboratory, Oxford, Mississippi; phone (662) 232-2940.


"Science Update" was published in the October 1995 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

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