By KEVIN WALKER
ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Monsanto is teaming with academia to launch a more aggressive fight against the corn rootworm, a pest that has been especially problematic to farmers. The company has pledged up to $3 million to support academic research on corn rootworm, which according to recent reports has developed resistance to genetically modified (GMO) corn designed to kill the bug.
Monsanto has named its effort the Corn Rootworm Knowledge Research Program. It will provide merit-based awards of up to $250,000 per year, for up to three years, for outstanding research projects that address aspects of corn rootworm biology, genomics and management issues.
“We encourage researchers to submit their proposals on corn rootworm,” said Dusty Post, Monsanto’s global insect management lead, in a statement. “We believe it is critical to work together to build upon and expand on corn rootworm research to combat this challenging pest.
“By working collaboratively we can enhance the collective understanding of corn rootworm while providing economical, practical and sustainable solutions for farmers.”
Steve Pueppke, AgBioResearch director at Michigan State University, described the program as “very new” and said Monsanto is looking for its first round of proposals now. He’s co-chair of the program advisory committee. “The funding will be awarded on a freely competitive basis,” Pueppke said. “My colleagues have no advantage or disadvantage because they’re at Michigan State. The goal is to fund the best science regardless of who they’re affiliated with.”
He said the organizers haven’t focused in yet on what they need, exactly. “What we’re really grappling with right now is to establish our priorities,” he stated. “We’re not there yet.”
Pueppke explained the new program is a reaction to reports over the past couple of years of “greater than expected damage” to farmers’ fields from corn rootworm. Bt corn, a GMO corn trait developed by Monsanto, was designed to protect the plant against corn rootworm.
“The plant expresses proteins which are toxic to the insect,” he said. “That confers protection to the plant, but the bugs might be evolving to be resistant to the plant. The stimulus of the program is to put public money into research. What we really want is to get solid science information about the phenomenon.”
According to Monsanto’s mission statement for the program, it is committed to supporting research with academic and government scientists who have complementary areas of expertise. The goal is to include growers in the process, to ensure that research will be focused on discovering information that could lead to better corn rootworm management solutions.
“Involvement of the academic community as advisors and stakeholders, in addition to expert reviewers, will enrich Monsanto’s understanding of corn rootworm resistance and strengthen Monsanto’s internal programs,” the statement said.
Pueppke said awards will be announced in early 2013. For more information, go to www.monsanto.com