(Photo: José Ruchesi shows the work they run at the Ag-Forestry Biotech Center)

Buenos Aires, November 28, 2019. Cotton is a relevant crop in the north of Argentina. Around 400,000 hectares are planted each season, reaching one million tons of production. But disseminated in all the cotton provinces, the cotton boll weevil (Anthonomus grandis) represents the most important pest, causing damages to the crop and economic loses to farmers. In fact, the presence of the insect limits the expansion of the crop in the country.

Another characteristic of cotton production is the fact that only one breeding company operates in the country, and that biotechnological companies are not releasing its traits due to the informal (or illegal) market which turns it impossible to collect royalties from farmers. In that scenario, the R&D public system was put in charge to find a solution for the control of the cotton boll weevil, and biotechnology is one of the approaches.

Around mid-year, the Agriculture Research National Institute (INTA) announced that a research team led by Dalia Lewi was able to transform cotton plants into weevil-resistant using the RNA-interference technology. This trait blocks some metabolic steps into the insect, diminishing its damage capacity. Currently, researchers are multiplying the plants to initiate tests under controlled conditions.

Furthermore, in a little agronomy school in the Chaco province (the largest cotton producer one), that was granted funds by the former government to develop a biotech lab, Jose Ruchesi is also working in the developing GMO weevil-resistant cotton. Heading a scientific team, he achieved the transformation of corn and soybean plants with a trait that confers drought-resistance (HB11). Now, in the Ag-Forestry Biotech Center, they are working to transform cotton plants into drought-resistant ones and also weevil-resistant. Through the support of the Chaco province government, Texas University is assisting Ruschoni’s team to develop the GMO-cotton.