GENETIC research has revealed why the diamondback moth is one of the world's worst agricultural pests, costing about $5 billion in crop losses and control measures each year.
An international consortium that included two Australian scientists has cracked the moth's genetic blueprint, showing how the caterpillars quickly develop resistance to insecticides.
Geoff Gurr, of Charles Sturt University, said the moth's evolutionary trick lay in its ability to detoxify the defence compounds produced by plants in the cabbage family, the same compounds that make mustard pungent and cabbage smelly.
''Remarkably, it appears that the very genetic adaptations that allow the diamondback moth to cope with these natural compounds also allow it to detoxify the insecticides used against it,'' Professor Gurr said.
Scientists believe cracking the moth's genetic code will allow new insecticide resistance-monitoring techniques and pest-management strategies to be developed.
The genetic research took 40 scientists several years to complete and identified 18,000 separate genes.