USDA's Agricultural Research Service has released the first high-quality genome of the desert locust, which researchers hope will help reduce dependence on pesticides to control the pest.
The desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria), the most destructive migratory insect in the world, has plagued humankind since biblical times and continues to cause food security concerns. In 2020-2022, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reported the Horn of Africa and Yemen experienced a massive outbreak. Additionally, locust swarms caused destruction in 1967-1969 and 1986-1989. Known for their widespread destruction, swarms have been reported to eat as much food as 35,000 people in one day.
"Having a high-quality genome is a big step toward finding targeted controls," Scott Geib, an entomologist with the ARS tropical crop and commodity protection research unit, said in a release. "It will also give us valuable information about relatives of the desert locust that are major pests in the Americas such as the Mormon cricket, another swarming species that can impact U.S. food security."
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Geib said researchers were concerned the genomic process would be difficult due to the size of the locust’s genome. The pest has just under 9 billion base pairs, almost three times the size of a human genome. However, the process took researchers only five months to complete.
“It was like sequencing a typical insect genome many, many times over,” Geib said. “But with today's advances in DNA sequencing technologies, we are now able to generate extremely accurate genomes of insects that previously would have been unapproachable."
The desert locust is listed as one of the top 100 arthropod pests by the ARS Ag100Pest Initiative, which aims to create genomes for the top agricultural pests to be used in applied research.
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