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Sugar is one of the most popular products worldwide and an essential ingredient in many of our favorite foods and drinks. Brazil is by far the largest producer of sugarcane and the biggest exporter of sugar in the world. In fact, when sugarcane was introduced to the country more than 500 years ago, it was almost as valuable as gold. It’s no wonder that a great deal of scientific research has gone into sugar production, including finding ways to better protect this valuable crop from insect attacks.
Just as we have a sweet tooth, so too does the sugarcane borer, a species of moth which can cause widespread damage to the crop. Sugarcane farmer Evandro Piedade Do Amaral, who started his farm at the age of 25, enjoys growing the crop, but gets disheartened by insect infestations. “I love growing sugarcane because it’s such a major source of food and energy. But I can lose up to 10 percent in productivity and 5 percent in sugarcane quality to the borer,” he says.
Plant biologist Anne-Marie Kuijpers is developing a biotech sugarcane crop with a built-in resistance to the sugarcane borer. “We cannot afford for insects to eat our crops, so we have to protect them in the best way we can,” says Anne-Marie. “With plant biotechnology, we are developing a crop that is protected throughout the whole season. The farmer will make more money, because his crop yields will be higher and he’ll have to use fewer insecticide applications,” she adds.