Hybrid ‘mega-pest’ could threaten crops across the globe, researchers warn

April 6 (UPI) — Two the planet’s most damaging crop pests have combined, or hybridized, to form a new “mega-pest.” The new threat is a product of a marriage between the cotton bollworm and corn earworm.

The cotton bollworm is common throughout Africa, Asia and Europe. It eats dozens of major crops, including corn, cotton, tomatoes and soybeans. Unlike the well-traveled cotton bollworm, corn earworms are confined to the Americas.

Scientists worry the new mega-pest will prove more resistant to pesticides, as well as boast a wider geographical range and more diverse appetite.

“A hybrid such as this could go completely undetected should it invade another country,” Paul De Barro, a researcher with CRISO, said in a news release. “It is critical that we look beyond our own backyard to help fortify Australia’s defense and response to biosecurity threats.”

CSIRO, or the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, is an independent government agency in Australia responsible for a wide variety of scientific research efforts.

“As Australia’s national science agency, we are constantly looking for new ways to protect the nation and technology like genome sequencing, is helping to tip the scales in our favor,” De Barro said.

CSIRO scientists recently investigated a swarm of caterpillars in Australia. They confirmed that every member of the swarm was a hybrid. However, their research showed no two hybrids were the same, which suggests a “hybrid swarm” can involved a variety of unique hybrids.

Scientists described their discovery and analysis of the new mega-pest this week in the journal PNAS.

.