What is it about?

Teamwork between farmers and scientists helped to eradicate the pink bollworm, one of the world’s most damaging crop pests, from the United States. A coordinated, multitactic program achieved this success a century after the pest invaded both countries. Tactics included releases of 11 billion sterile pink bollworm moths from airplanes and planting of genetically engineered cotton that produces insect-killing bacterial proteins.

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Why is it important?

Eradicating the pink bollworm ended the damage this pest caused to cotton in the US and the insecticide sprays used to control it. This saved farmers $192 million from 2014 to 2019 and yielded environmental and health benefits. This exemplifies how science and teamwork can effectively combat invasive organisms.


Nearly 20 years ago, when I first heard about plans to eradicate the pink bollworm from the US, I thought it was not feasible. I was asked to conduct computer simulations of various strategies, which I expected to support my view. However, the simulations showed that under a range of realistic conditions, the proposed strategies succeeded. I became a strong advocate and even went to Washington DC to help convince the EPA to grant permission for the program. It’s deeply gratifying to have been one of many who worked for more than a decade to achieve this success.

Bruce Tabashnik Tabashnik
University of Arizona

The success cannot be denied. Pink bollworm have been eradicated. However, what makes this piece of research so important is that it details the how and why it was successful. Eradication of any organism over a broad geography is incredibly rare. Now we have compelling evidence of just how important sterile insect technique was to that accomplishment. This outcome has a major international dimension, too, because through active collaboration across borders, northern Mexico, where most of this country's cotton is grown, has also eradicated the pink bollworm through the same strategy. Insects don't respect borders and this international cooperation was key to preventing a re-invasion of pink bollworm to the U.S.

Professor Peter C Ellsworth
University of Arizona

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Transgenic cotton and sterile insect releases synergize eradication of pink bollworm a century after it invaded the United States, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, December 2020, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2019115118.
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