E&E PhD Exit Seminar: Unravelling Genetic Mechanisms of Pesticide Resistance in Cotton Bollworm (Helicoverpa armigera): A Pan-Genomic Perspective

The Cotton Bollworm, Helicoverpa armigera, is a globally distributed polyphagous pest with a profound economic and environmental impact. Human intervention has left a distinct imprint on the genetic and phenotypic landscape of this organism from decades of attempts to control it, initially with synthetic pesticides and more recently with Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) derived bio-toxins.

Understanding the genetic mechanisms that drive pesticide resistance is crucial for effective monitoring of resistance but remains challenging. Recent advances in sequencing technologies, specifically long-read sequencing, have dramatically improved the resolution of the genetic information able to be gained from individuals. This information enables the application of pan-genomic approaches (which are focused on assessing the large-scale variation within a group) to organisms with large or complex genomes.

In this seminar I will present a pan-genomic approach to catalogue significant genetic variation within Cotton Bollworm, with a particular emphasis on its two primary sub-species, H. armigera armigera and H. armigera conferta. Utilizing both short-read and long-read sequencing methods, distinct patterns emerge in the variation of genes associated with pesticide resistance, such as Cytochrome P450s and serine endo-peptidases, between these two sub-species. These findings bear implications for understanding the variable susceptibilities of these sub-species in response to pesticides.

Furthermore, I show evidence from a linkage experiment for the novel genetic mechanism of resistance of Cotton Bollworm to a specific class of Bt bio-toxin (Vip3Aa). The specific causal mutation (a transposable element insertion) is missed by traditional short-read approaches but can be identified using long-read sequencing. This highlights the improvement of resolution of genetic variation of long-read sequencing in comparison to short-read technologies.

In conclusion, I hope to demonstrate the utility of pan-genome approaches, particularly insights from long-reads, in improving the ability to understand genetic mechanisms which drive phenotypes of interest. The insight from my PhD thesis may help to inform future strategies for managing pesticide resistance in this, and other, insect pests, contributing to more sustainable pest management practices.