A project undertaken at the Otago Centre for Electron Microscopy, University of Otago and supervised by Mihnea Bostina
The rhinoceros beetle (Oryctes rhinoceros L.) is a very important pest of coconut and oil palms throughout Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. Financial losses caused by this beetle reach hundreds of million dollars annually. Its control using chemical pesticides not only has had very limited success, but also has contaminated the habitat of many native communities that have based their fragile economy on coconut and oil palms plantations, particularly in the Pacific Islands. Recent reports have raised even more fear since the beetle is targeting now other important crops, like plantations of bananas, papayas, and sugar cane.
The Oryctes nudivirus (OrNV), a natural pathogen of the rhinoceros beetle, has been used successfully to control this pest and could become a sustainable and environmental-friendly tool to battle it if it is effectively produced, formulated, and applied in the field. However, this control strategy suffers from the difficulty to produce sufficient amounts of active virus and by the lack of an effective formulation which would maintain its biological activity when applied in the environment.
The main objective of this project is to develop the basis for the stabilization and formulation of the OrNV on a clay-based nanoparticle, which will permit an efficient and practical use of OrNV as biocontrol agent on a large scale. We are using state of the art cryo-electron tomography and nanotechnology to untangle OrNV structure to better understand how it could interact with a clay-based nanoparticle formulation for its stabilization and delivery. This will place us in a much better position to use it effectivelyin the environment both in small and large coconut and oil palm plantations, helping local communities, which base their economy on palm and coconut trees plantations and that are struggling in the battle against the Rhinoceros beetle pest, particularly in the Pacific Islands.