Spare the bug spoil the cactus
Spare the bug spoil the cactus

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The cochineal bug is decimating the main source of food for cattle in one of the poorest and driest area of Brazil: we want to conduct the genomic sequencing of the cochineal to find a solution





  • The Cochineal bug.

The insects of the specie Dactylopius opuntiae (Hemiptera, Dactylopiidae), commonly known as Cochineal bug, are decimating the crops of Drooping Prickly Pear cactus (Opuntia monacantha) in the Northeast region of Brazil. This cactus is the main source of food for cattle in the region, the poorest and driest one in Brazil, due to its resistance in long droughts periods. However, since last year the region is experiencing its worst drought in the last forty years, which has directly affected the lives of residents and local farmers. Along with this long period of drought, the plague is spreading rapidly, and has already caused losses of 250 million dollars to small farmers in the state of Paraíba only. It is affecting all the population in the region, since the cattle is being eradicated, resulting in a serious problem of hunger.

  • The Northeast region of Brazil.

The Northeast is one of the poorest region in Brazil, with a population of approximately 55 million habitants and the lowest social-economic rates in the country. Most of its geographic territory is covered by lands in desertification process. Currently, in Paraíba only, one of the 9 states in the region, 195 cities are in a state of emergency due to the huge drought period that the region is presently facing.

  • What are the goals of the project?

Our project involves the genetic sequencing of the Cochineal bug. And here’s a bit of technical aspect for those who are interested in the more technical aspect

We decided to make the transcriptome sequencing because it is much cheaper and easier to analyze than the genome. The transcriptome is the catalog of all active genes under certain conditions, while the genome is all the genes in the animal, activated or not.  The idea is to identify and characterize the biggest number of genes and metabolic pathways in the Cochineal bug, leading to the elucidation of the targets for the animal control.

  • Why is it important?

The Cochineal bug is destroying completely the main food for cattle and goats in periods of drought in northeastern Brazil. Having the active genes of this insect sequenced will be important to elucidate all the molecular mechanisms behind the animal biology. It can lead us to identify all the molecular targets for the control of this plague. It will not give an end to the drought in the region, but will ease the situation for local population, preventing the death of many animals, that have the cactus in their diet and, consequently, the hunger of local communities. Additionally, it can be of big importance for the local economy, which depends almost exclusively on the small farmers’ commerce of cattle and goats.

All the data obtained in the project will be made available for the exploration of the scientific community for free on an online portal.

  • How will the funds be used?

To achieve the genetic sequencing it is necessary to extract the genetic material from the animal, create an in vitro “library” with all the sequences, and then perform the sequencing. All these steps needs reagents and laboratory materials. Our support institutions will give all the infrastructure of people and machinery necessary for the project, however, it is necessary to cover the reagents and materials expenses, which are described in our Lab Note.

The animal samples will be collected at the Universidade Federal de Campina Grande (Sumé, Brazil), since we have there a group studying the relationships between the bug and the plant. The genetic sequence will be obtained using the sequencing facility of the Genómica Mayor (Santiago, Chile). All the analysis of the data generated will be developed by the team of bioinformaticians from Beagle Bioinformatics (João Pessoa, Brazil/Santiago, Chile), Universidad Mayor (Santiago, Chile) and Instituto Vandique – Inova (João Pessoa, Brazil).




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