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New Syngenta insectary targets invasive insect pests

The 13,000 square foot, $18 million facility is expected to be completed by May 2023.

John Hart, Associate Editor

April 27, 2022

3 Min Read
Breaking ground for a new insectary at Syngenta’s Global Innovation Center in Research Triangle Park, N.C., April 19 are from left, David Hollinrake, head global seeds strategy and portfolio, Syngenta Seeds; Gusui Wu, head global seed research, Syngenta Seeds; Adrian Percy, executive director of the North Carolina Plant Sciences Initiative; Ian Jepson, seeds research technology lead and RTP site manager, Syngenta Seeds; Mitch Peele, senior director of public policy for the North Carolina Farm Bureau Federation; and Liang Shi, seeds research operations lead, Syngenta Seeds.John Hart

On April 19, Syngenta broke ground for an insectary at the company’s Global Innovation Center in Research Triangle Park, N.C. that is designed to find new ways to battle invasive insect pests.

Syngenta officials have high hopes for the 13,000 square foot, $18 million facility that is expected to be completed by May 2023. Work at the new insectary will primarily focus on corn rootworm and fall armyworm.

At the groundbreaking ceremony, Ian Jepson, seeds research technology lead and RTP site manager, Syngenta Seeds, said corn rootworm causes $1 billion in crop damage in North America alone while fall armyworm causes hundreds of millions of dollars in damages to multiple crops. He noted there are currently few chemicals to control fall armyworm which is why biotech solutions are needed.

In essence, Jepson said the insectary will allow Syngenta to study economically important insect species from around the world in a controlled and safe manner.

The insectary will be split into two main areas, a large insectary with the primary goal to study economically damaging insect species and raise them in growth chambers at the insectary. The second part of the facility will focus on plant testing.

“We will gather insect pests from around the world that have devastated crops in North America and South America. We will bring them here and we will culture them in the insectary. We rear them and they produce many eggs. We take those eggs, and we test them with different proteins, and we try to get the protein s to kill those insect pests,” Jepson explained.

In the second part of the insectary, Syngenta scientists will actually grow corn and soybean plants year-round in growth chambers in the new building. Jepson said the growth chambers are designed to mimic the growth environments of either North America or South America.

“We grow those plants, then we take those insect eggs that we reared, and we infest the plants at really high infestation levels in the growth chambers in the new facility. We will introduce genes and coding and new proteins and next generation technology. We will look to see if those proteins protect the plants from insect damage,” Jepson explained. “If they do, we can then go and send them to the field for further testing and they would eventually become products.”

Jepson explained Syngenta is already doing insect testing work at its Research Triangle Park facility, but that the program has expanded so much a new larger, facility is needed. Also, much of the insect testing was done in the field in the summer in the Midwest. Jepson said the new facility will enable Syngenta to now do the research year-round in a controlled environment. He said a team of 50 people are currently conducting insect research for Syngenta.

At the insectary groundbreaking, Gusui Wu, head global seeds research, Syngenta Seeds, said the insectary is needed because controlling insect pests continues to be one of the biggest challenges farmers face in producing crops. Wu cited estimates by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations showing insect pests can cause up to 20% crop loss annually, which represents a loss of more than $70 billion in the world.

“It’s a big problem. It’s a significant loss of crop productivity by some of the major insects. The new insect facility we are going to build here will significantly increase Syngenta’s capability for our scientists to collect, to house and to do research on some of the most important invasive insects of agriculture crops ,” Wu said.

RTP Insectary Rendering.jpg

Syngenta’s new 13,000 square foot, $18 million insectary located at the company’s Global Innovation Center in Research Triangle Park, N.C., is expected to be completed by May 2023. (Courtesy of Syngenta)

About the Author(s)

John Hart

Associate Editor, Southeast Farm Press

John Hart is associate editor of Southeast Farm Press, responsible for coverage in the Carolinas and Virginia. He is based in Raleigh, N.C.

Prior to joining Southeast Farm Press, John was director of news services for the American Farm Bureau Federation in Washington, D.C. He also has experience as an energy journalist. For nine years, John was the owner, editor and publisher of The Rice World, a monthly publication serving the U.S. rice industry.  John also worked in public relations for the USA Rice Council in Houston, Texas and the Cotton Board in Memphis, Tenn. He also has experience as a farm and general assignments reporter for the Monroe, La. News-Star.

John is a native of Lake Charles, La. and is a  graduate of the LSU School of Journalism in Baton Rouge.  At LSU, he served on the staff of The Daily Reveille.

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