Moth's Saliva Good for Potato Crops

ITHACA, N.Y., May 27 (UPI) — A team of U.S., German and Colombian scientists says it has discovered the saliva of a South American pest can potentially double the output of potato crops.

Researchers from Cornell University, the University of Goettingen and the National University of Colombia said they found the secret to the increased yield is the saliva of the Guatemalan potato moth larvae (Tecia solanivora). The scientists said compounds in the potato moth larvae’s foregut elicit a system-wide response in the Colombian Andes commercial potato plant (Solanum tuberosum) to produce larger tubers.

The researchers said when saliva from the tuber moth caterpillar gets into a tuber, all the other tubers of the plant grow bigger.

The co-author of the study, Cornell Assistant Professor Andre Kessler, said the compounds from the insect’s saliva somehow increase the rate of the plant’s photosynthesis to compensate for the tubers lost to the caterpillar damage. As a result of more photosynthesis, more carbon is drawn into the plant and used to create starch, which makes bigger tubers.

The researchers said their findings have implications for potato farmers since, once isolated, the compounds could lead to considerably higher yields in some varieties.

The study, led by postdoctoral researcher Katja Poveda at the University of Goettingen, was reported in the April 28 issue of the journal Ecological Applications.

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