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Argentina sequences leafhopper genome to battle crop-destroying insect

By Thomson Reuters Jun 25, 2024 | 2:32 PM

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – An Argentine scientific institute has cracked the genome of the leafhopper, the insect which carries the bacteria responsible for wiping out vast swathes of the South American nation’s latest corn crop, the government said on Tuesday.

The development, which determined the Dalbulus maidis’ genetic makeup, will serve future efforts to fight off the leafhopper, according to the government statement.

Experts argue that the leafhopper population has surged in recent months largely due to the lack of frosts during last year’s Southern Hemisphere winter, which likely would have killed off the insect.

The tiny bug, which sucks sap out of plants, transmits a bacteria that produces stunt disease in corn, causing the key grains crop to grow ears with loose or missing kernels.

In the 2023/24 season, the Rosario Grains Exchange expects local farmers to harvest 47.5 million metric tons of corn, about a fifth less than originally estimated due to losses caused by the leafhopper.

“This research will help us understand the biology and evolution of the insect, which in turn will help predict and mitigate future outbreaks,” the statement said, adding that the scientific advance could also lead to the development of new varieties of leafhopper-resistant genetically modified corn.

Agricultural analysts have said that farmers will likely plant smaller corn fields in the 2024/25 season due to the pest, although fall and winter frosts should improve prospects for the crop.

(Reporting by Maximilian Heath; Writing by Kylie Madry; Editing by Sandra Maler)