Self-limiting gene to curd SENA – Wayamba University and the HorizonCampus have identified a self-limiting gene to destroy the eggs of the Fall Armyworm
The Nano Technology Department of the Wayamba University and the Horizon Campus have identified a self-limiting gene to destroy the eggs of the Fall Armyworm (FAW) (Spodoptera frugiperda).
They are working together to develop this gene in their own labs to find a permanent solution for the crisis. According to them, this can be applied to a large area like 10,000 -15,000 acres within one day using drones. They have already tested this gene on affected-fields in Ukraine as well and the cost of applying this to a one-acre plot of land is estimated around Rs. 200 – Rs. 300.null
Spread of FAW
The Fall Armyworm is a pest which can destroy more than 80 kinds of plants, including maize, rice, sugarcane and cotton. It has spread throughout North, South and Central America, where it has caused significant crop damage for decades. The FAW has developed resistance to insecticides in a number of regions and growers are in need of new solutions to control this pest.
According to an Agriculture and Biosciences International Centre report, the FAW has caused an estimated US dollars 13.8 billion loss to maize, sorghum, rice and sugarcane cultivations in Africa.
Since 2016, the Fall Armyworm has been spreading throughout Africa and is now found in at least 28 countries. Native to America, the FAW was identified in Sri Lanka last year and has rapidly spread over the entire country. It has infected nearly 50 percent of the maize cultivation in the country, extending to 82,000 hectares. If it infects the export-oriented crops, we may face some problems in exporting as well.
Efforts to control FAW
Considering the damage caused by the FAW to the country, the Wayamba University and the Horizon campus dedicated their efforts to identifying and providing a rapid solution to the issue. According to them, this self-limiting gene is the heart of this method of insect control. When male insects with the self-limiting gene are released to reproduce with wild females, all of their offspring receive a copy of this gene. The self-limiting gene disrupts the proper functioning of their cells by flooding the insect’s cells with a protein to stop them from properly expressing other essential genes needed for development and preventing the offspring from surviving until adulthood.
Since the self-limiting gene functions by using the insect’s own biology against itself, this method of control provides a solution that only affects the particular species of pest without introducing harmful toxins.
They have also designed insects that can turn-off the self-limiting gene with an antidote called tetracycline. This allows breeding insects on a large scale without the need for any additional genetic engineering.
They are aiming to introduce a marker gene into insects, which expresses a protein called ‘DsRed2’. Like the self-limiting gene, it will also be inherited by all offspring. This protein is found in the body of the larvae and pupae and glows red under a special light. As a result, these insects can be easily identified apart from the wild ones.
The marker gene is vital for a control programme as it allows scientists to easily identify the offspring of target insects while enabling their tracking-and-tracing in the wild. The number of offspring of the self-limiting insects and wild ones can be calculated through the examination of larvae in the field. This makes it a highly useful tool for quality control in production and effective monitoring in the field. They use that data to tailor the releases and ensure high levels of pest suppression.
As the marker is integrated into the insect’s DNA, this method provides a better monitoring tool compared to fluorescent dust or food dyes used in other insect control programmes.
About the self-limiting gene
1. The self-limiting gene produces a tetracycline-controlled trans-activator protein.
The self-limiting gene creates a protein called tetracycline-controlled trans-activator (tTAV protein). One section of the self-limiting gene contains a binding site called tetO.
2. tTAV protein binds to tetO, producing positive feedback.
The tTAV protein binds to the tetO site on the self-limiting gene. This works as positive feedback, informing the gene to produce more tTAV. As the amount of tTAV protein is increased, there is more positive feedback, and even more protein is created.
3. High levels of tTAV prevent cells from working properly.
Once there is enough tTAV protein, it interferes with the machinery which cells use to control the expression of genes. Essential genes are not expressed, and the insects die while they are still pupae or larvae.
In some research, both male and female insects die, while in others the gene only affects female insects.
4. The self-limiting gene can be turned off with an antidote.
When the pests are reared with an antidote called tetracycline, the tTAV protein binds to the antidote instead of tetO. There is no positive feedback, so levels of tTAV remain low and the insect survives.
They said they can breed these self-limiting insects by adding tetracycline to their food. However, in the wild their offspring do not have access to tetracycline and so they die.
According to their statement, if government authorities can test this gene on affected grounds, the waste of public money can be stopped. Further, this team is willing to extend their support to the government to develop this kind of technology in the country without depending on imported pesticides.
Even the use of some natural extractions like neem oil may kill other environmental-friendly species that are important to agriculture. It is hard to control the FAW even after applying natural or artificial pest control techniques.
Usually, one single egg will lead to 2,000 eggs, but the technique they proposed will destroy each and every egg that remains in the field, without allowing the pest to regenerate.
Academicians involved in this project:
* Prof. C.A.N Fernando, Nano Science Technology Department, Technology Faculty, Wayamba University of Sri Lanka, Kuliyapitiya
* Prof. Ajith C. Herath, Applied Science Faculty, Rajarata University of Sri Lanka, Mihintale.
* Prof. L. Obeysekara, Technology Faculty, Horizon Campus, Malabe
* Prof. P Samarasekera, Physics Department, University of Peradeniya
* Prof. D.P.S.T.G Attanayake, Biotechnology Department, Wayamba University, Makandura
*Prof. R.C.W.M.R.A Nugawela, Biotechnology Department, Wayamba University, Makadura
* Prof. Aruni Weerasinghe, Plant Science Department, Agriculture Faculty, Rajarata University of Sri Lanka, Anuradhapura.
* Prof. D.P.S.T.G Attanayake, Biotechnology Department, Wayamba University, Makadura
* Prof. Sanath Rajapakse, Molecular Biology and Biotechnology Department, Science Faculty, University of Peradeniya
* Prof. Sanath Hettiaracchi, Applied Sciences Faculty, Rajarata University of Sri Lanka, Mihintale
* Prof. Rohan Weerasooriya, National Institute of Fundamental Studies, Kandy
* Prof. B. Obeysekara, Australia
* Prof. Ronald Hummel, Germany
* Dr. PSB Wanduragala (Coordinator) – Secretary, National Institute of Fundamental Studies, Kandy
* Dr. K.H Sarananda, Bio Systems Engineering Department, Wayamba University, Makadura
* Dr. Upaneth Liyanarchchi (Coordinator), Nano Science Technology Department, Technology Faculty, Wayamba University of Sri Lanka, Kuliyapitiya
* Dr. Pradeep Perera, Nano Science Technology Department, Technology Faculty, Wayamba University of Sri Lanka, Kuliyapitiya
* Dr. Nimali Tharangani De Silva (Coordinator)- Nano Science Technology Department, Technology Faculty, Wayamba University of Sri Lanka, Kuliyapitiya
* Dr. Asanka Rajapakse, Nano Science Technology Department, Technology Faculty, Wayamba University of Sri Lanka, Kuliyapitiya
* Dr. Malita Abeykoon, Bells Lab Communication PLC , Sri Lanka
Reference : Daily News – 06th February 2019
Horizon team from Faculty of Science has observed Ruddy-breasted Crake, a rare bird species at Diyasaru Park
Ruddy-breasted Crake is an endangered species appearing in the IUCN red list. It is a shy water bird which belongs to Rallidae family. Ruddy Crake migrates to Sri Lanka in December and leaves by March. It is uncommon and rarely seen, because of lack of the habitat and the urbanization. The Horizon team (Batch 10 undergraduates following BSc (Hons) in Biotechnology) led by senior lecturers Mr Medisha Gunawardena and Mr Eranda Mandawala, were fortunate to spot this rare species on 11.12.2018 during their field visit to Diyasaru Biodiversity Park around Thalawathugoda. During this field visit, the undergraduates were able to expand their knowledge on Biodiversity of wet lands and importance of conserving them. It was a memorable experience for them as they were able to observe and learn about endemic and endangered flora and fauna in wetlands.
Undergraduates of Batch 5 following the B.Sc. (Hons) in Biotechnology of the Faculty of Science, conducted a Social Responsibility project, providing donations to the less fortunate children of Vishaka Pre-School situated in Karunodagama, Yatiyana, Matara. The school houses a total of 19 students which include 8 girls and 11 boys, who are all educated and looked after by a single teacher. These students were studying under numerous difficulties and lacked requirements such as stationery items and proper school bags. The team of undergraduates were able to purchase the necessary items for the children, with the aid of students, lecturers and outsiders of the campus, who provided donations to raise funds for this worthy cause.
Water bottles, pencils, school bags, story books, crayon sets and bank pass books were distributed to each and every child as the team visited the pre-school. Providing these items to the children created a brighter future for their education, and their parents were also supported, as their financial burdens were reduced. The immense joy and happiness of the children as they received their gifts could be seen in their faces. By completing this project, the group of undergraduates successfully extended their helping hand as socially responsible citizens of the country.
I am Danushika Nayomi a graduate in B.Sc. (Honors) in Biotechnology conducted by Horizon Campus in collaboration with Nilai University, Malaysia. I was fortunate to secure a first class with my commitment, proper guidance of Faculty of Science and motivation from my parents. Graduation Ceremony 2018 of Nilai University was held in 18th August 2018. I was invited together with two of my colleagues, Tarinija Gopalakrisnan and Prisca Issac who also got First Classes to attend this grand ceremony. My other colleagues also have performed well. Mr. Ajitha Wanasinghe, CEO of Horizon Campus motivated us by joining our team. Dr. Ng Shee Ping (PhD, Head/Senior Lecturer – School of Applied Sciences, Faculty of Engineering, Science and Technology) was one of the well-wishers among Nilai team who congratulated us.
At first before coming to Horizon Campus, I needed a program that cover the disciplines of science but also allow me to tailor my education to fit my professional goals. Then I found the Horizon Campus. And I recently attended the graduation ceremony held at Nilai University in Malaysia.
During the program, I have been able to further my studies within the sciences as well as acquainted with business concepts within the biotechnology industry. Our program included the basics of biology, chemistry and advanced modules like Cell and tissue culture, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Food science & Technology etc. Special feature is that it is also designed to produce graduates who have solid understanding in modules such as Entrepreneurship, Bioinformatics, Innovation & Commercialization which are required to exploit technological advances within a competitive environment. We are encouraged to exercise independence, initiative and responsibility and appreciate the need for continual professional development because of the intensity of this specialist program.
I cannot underestimate the value of this choice as it gave me confidence in my scientific ability and equipped me with skills that helped me to hit the ground running when I began my final year research project. The final year consisted of an independent in-depth research project that involved supervised research work in our modern labs. We had the opportunity to carry out techniques that are widely used in current biological science research. I carried out my research project on natural products which is related to pharmaceutical field under the mentoring and guidance of the high academically qualified supervisors. I was also able to publish my research at 4th international conference on multidisciplinary approaches organized by University of Sri Jayawardanapura. Offering high-quality and blend of modules throughout, the degree allows us to choose a research field that reflects our individual scientific strengths and interests.
The industrial placement module in the final year gave me the opportunity to put what I have learnt into practice, giving me a better understanding of my strengths and the chance to solidify my knowledge in an industry setting. I joined SGS Lanka (Pvt) Ltd. as an intern chemical analyst where I was given the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in food, water, fertilizer and cosmetic laboratories. I enjoyed my time there a lot acquiring transferable key skills, including technical laboratory competencies, skills in teamwork and decision-making.
There are great resources and amenities available to students. There are numerous clubs and societies to get involved in. I thoroughly enjoy my time spent at Horizon Campus. I think the diverse education that I received from this flexible and engaging program has prepared me for a career in academics as well as in industrial wise. Whether it is going into industry, pursuing further learning or branching out and going into the business world, there is always demand for Biotechnologists. So I believe that the Nilai Biotechnology program at Horizon Campus allows students to tailor their degree to their own interests giving those opportunities to select any of the option study blocks they wish. Thus the programme seeks to develop within graduates good practical, analytical and transferable skills applicable to a wide range of employment opportunities.
After successfully graduation with a first class honors, I was offered the position of Demonstrator in my own campus. Working together and sharing ideas in an open and fun environment whilst meeting some of the most amazing people, in faculty, many of whom have become close friends now. By covering the vast areas of the up and coming biotechnology industry, students can see which areas interest them most, and which don’t, and make informed decisions on where they would like their career path to go.
A group of students completing BSc (Hons) in Biotechnology conducted by Faculty of Science, Horizon Campus in collaboration with Nilai University, Malaysia, conducted a research on “The Diversity of Plants” at the Kanneliya Forest Reserve. It is one of the most biologically diverse areas in the country. The research was conducted by Ashan Karunananda, Ravindu Annjana and Chathura Priyadarshana under the supervision of Senior Lecturer Mr.Medhisha Gunawardena and the support of Mr.Eranda Mandawala (Senior Lecturer) and Dr. Lekha Wanasekara (Dean – Faculty of Science). An abstract was selected to be published at the Research Symposium on Wet Zone Forests organized by the Forest Department.
It was successfully presented by Ashan Karunananda (President – Nature Beyond Horizon) on the 20th of October 2018 at BMICH. Well known researchers from overseas and Sri Lanka including Emeritus Professors graced this very productive symposium. It was a proud moment for the Campus, as the Horizon research team got highly commended for their hardwork.