A new tool for studying insect-plant warfare

Jun 08, 2012 By Dennis O'Brien
A new tool for studying insect-plant warfare
A new way to wire up a young adult glassy-winged sharpshooter, an insect that can inject Pierce's disease bacteria into grapes as it feeds, is helping ARS scientists better understand how plant-feeding insects do so much damage. Credit: Stephen Ausmus

(Phys.org) -- When an insect pierces the surface of a plant to feed, much of the action takes place in the plant's interior. A device called the Electrical Penetration Graph (EPG) is a critical tool for peering into the process.

Now a new type of EPG developed by U. S. (USDA) entomologists is giving scientists the clearest view yet of the wars waged between piercing-sucking insects and the plants they attack.

The EPG was developed by Elaine Backus at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Center, in Parlier, Calif., and her late partner William Bennett from the University of Missouri.

ARS is USDA's principal intramural scientific research agency, and this research supports the USDA goal of promoting agricultural sustainability.

To use an EPG, researchers connect the insect and plant to an electronic monitor that reads electrical charges produced by changes in voltage that occur as the insect feeds. At least eight different systems have been developed, and researchers who study aphids and other piercing-sucking insects have used them over the years to publish nearly 400 peer-reviewed papers. But the new EPG is much more versatile than any of its predecessors, and is being used by researchers around the country in ways expected to broaden understanding of how plant-feeding insects cause so much damage.

Traditionally, monitors have been designed to work with either AC or DC current. Because of the physics that govern electricity and the flow of electrical current, researchers have been likely to get best results using AC monitors when studying larger insects and DC monitors when studying smaller insects.

Ideally, a monitor should be capable of studying a variety of insect sizes. As the name implies, the team's AC-DC Monitor incorporates design features from both AC and DC monitors, making it more versatile. Researchers can adjust the settings to the sizes of any insect they are studying. will be able to view the feeding process in detail for more insects than ever before. They also will be better able to compare the feeding habits of pathogen-bearing with those that are pathogen-free.

Backus and Bennett described the AC-DC Monitor in a recent issue of the Journal of Insect Physiology.

Explore further: Seals forage at offshore wind farms

More information: Read more about this research in the May/June 2012 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Barcoding insects as a way to track and control them

May 02, 2012

Barcodes may bring to mind the sales tags and scanners found in supermarkets and other stores. But U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists are using "DNA barcodes" to monitor insects that damage crops ...

Novel approach to curing crop diseases tested

Apr 03, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- Sugar may be a treat for humans, but for aphids it can be life threatening. A $452,000 grant to Cornell and Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research (BTI) will fund research exploiting ...

Battling insects that cause trouble in paradise

Feb 27, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- We aren't the only species that like tropical vacation spots. Japanese beetles plague parts of the Azores, and Oriental fruit flies infest some of French Polynesia. But U.S. Department of ...

Recommended for you

Seals forage at offshore wind farms

16 hours ago

By using sophisticated GPS tracking to monitor seals' every movement, researchers have shown for the first time that some individuals are repeatedly drawn to offshore wind farms and pipelines. Those man-made ...

Study provides insights into birds' migration routes

18 hours ago

By tracking hybrids between songbird species, investigators have found that migration routes are under genetic control and could be preventing interbreeding. The research, which is published in Ecology Le ...

Technology tracks the elusive Nightjar

19 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Bioacoustic recorders could provide us with vital additional information to help us protect rare and endangered birds such as the European nightjar, new research has shown.

User comments : 0