UK develops viruses to save Muga silk industry of India

YarnsandFibers News Bureau 2016-01-13 11:28:00 – London

In order to save Muga silk industry in India, researchers at the University of Leicester in Britain have developed viruses that could halt the decline of 'Muga' caterpillar in India which produces one of the finest silks in the world.

Muga caterpillars, which produce a highly valuable silk, are dying from bacterial infections, in Assam, India.

During the last few years, the caterpillars have been in decline because they are eating infected leaves.

The researchers believe that the viruses which they have developed would save the silkworms from disease.

Muga silk is produced only in the North East India as the silkworms form their cocoons.

"As well as its silk trade, Assam is known for its tea and farmers often spray pesticides to protect the tea leaves - these sprays are thought to have reached the silkworms and have weakened them,” said Dr Mahananda Chutia, a visiting academic from Assam at the university who is employed by the Indian government.

"In our model system at Leicester, we have found that the consumption of phages (viruses) by caterpillars is a very effective method of preventing bacterial diseases," he added.

Dr Mahananda has tested his research on common white wax worms, as muga caterpillars cannot survive in the UK.

He returns to Assam at the end of the month to test the viruses by spraying them on to the leaves the caterpillars eat.

If the research works on Muga caterpillars, thousands of farmers in India would benefit, claims the university.

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