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Whitefly research helps cotton producers - Texas A&M Uni

Jan '07
Maggie Toothaker does not want to be a pencil pusher. Her graduate work at Texas A&M University is enabling her to achieve her goal, while also helping cotton producers in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas and in California. Toothaker's master's thesis is focusing on evaluating converted race stocks for resistance to whiteflies, a major pest of cotton. Race stocks are just a little more specific than the genus and species, much like race is in humans, she said.

Whiteflies leave a sticky residue, which makes ginning more difficult. They also transmit diseases from plant to plant and limit nutrient availability to the plant. The research race stocks she uses are just one or two generations from wild species in cotton, said Toothaker, who was raised in Schertz on the outskirts of San Antonio and far from cotton fields.

She is continuing work begun by Brandon Ripple, another master's student who graduated from Texas A&M in 2004. His work identified six out of 116 race stocks in cotton that showed whitefly resistance characteristics. Toothaker is trying to select the best individual plants—from each of the six race stocks—that show the characteristics of resistance in plants. She is measuring the days to adulthood and mortality in the insects.

She rears whiteflies on cucumbers and cantaloupe in a university greenhouse so the insects don't have a preconditioned preference for one breed of cotton variety. Seven to eight adult whiteflies are placed in a "clip cage" (a small, round cage that clips to the leaf) for 24 hours. Toothaker then removes the adults, counts the number of eggs that have been laid, and replaces the clip cage (without the adults).

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