Two and a half decades of research and contributions to the advancement of entomology have earned Yves Carrière worldwide recognition as a leader in insect ecology. From conducting large-scale analyses of pest population dynamics to working with a team of experts to eradicate the pink bollworm, Yves has dedicated himself to using science to help overcome agricultural challenges. Now, for his continued commitment to his work, the Entomological Society of America has recognized him with a Lifetime Achievement Award to be presented at the national meeting of the ESA in National Harbor, MD in November.
“When I was an undergrad, I went to college with the idea of using science to solve problems,” Yves said. “So when I started my master's studies, I worked on agricultural pests because I thought that science would give us the tools to solve these problems, and to help develop better methods to control pests with less environmental impact.”
Yves has worked at the University of Arizona since 1998 and is now a professor of insect ecology at the College of Agriculture, Life and Environmental Sciences' Department of Entomology. His research has primarily focused on the interactions between insects and transgenic crops, specifically bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) crops.
Transgenic crops and insects
Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) crops are genetically engineered (transgenic) crops that produce proteins that control some insect pests, reducing the need for insecticides. They are safe for mammal consumption but toxic to some coleopteran and lepidopteran pests. These proteins work by attaching to the insect midgut after being ingested, eventually disrupting the midgut and causing death. In 1996, Bt cotton and Bt corn were commercialized in the United States and elsewhere to help reduce the use of insecticides.
Despite the effectiveness of transgenic crops, over time pests can evolve resistance to Bt toxins, allowing them to reach population densities high enough to necessitate a return to insecticide applications. One pest at high risk for evolving resistance was the pink bollworm — a lepidopteran pest feeding almost exclusively on cotton.
Collaborative research on pest management
The pink bollworm was intensively studied in the Department of Entomology at the University of Arizona by a team of scientists. This led to finding many factors that affect the evolution of resistance, and to the development and implementation of an effective resistance management strategy for this pest.
Other research demonstrated that the deployment of Bt cotton in Arizona reduced the use of insecticides, had no negative impacts on non-target insects, and resulted in regional declines in pink bollworm populations. Declines in pest populations targeted by Bt crops were later documented by other scientists in many other regions and countries.
After 15 years of research involving the Arizona Cotton and Research Protection Council, the USDA, and the University of Arizona, the pink bollworm was eradicated from the continental US, and Northern Mexico. The eradication program was based on high use of Bt cotton to suppress pink bollworm populations, the release of sterile insects to decrease fertility, and the implementation of other integrated pest management tactics. The multidisciplinary pink bollworm research conducted in Arizona remains a model to help solve pest challenges.
Currently, Yves continues his study of Bt resistance with Helicoverpa zea, also known as the corn earworm, or cotton bollworm. H. zea is a key pest of corn, cotton, and other crops in the United States. It is also one of the biggest current threats to transgenic crops because it is especially good at evolving resistance to Bt toxins. “Because H. zea is very different from pink bollworm, research on it has high potential for improving our understanding of the factors affecting the evolution of resistance to Bt crops,” Yves said about the pest.
Yves mentions that he is very grateful to the numerous students, postdocs, and collaborators he had during the last 25 years. “Our research continues to focus on the development and implementation of effective resistance management and integrated pest management programs to improve the sustainability of agriculture," he said. "The best way to achieve this goal is to collaborate with scientists with complementary expertise.”