UK Needs Increase In Agriculture Graduates To Tackle Global Food Security

Giving children the opportunity to learn more about insects at a young age may create the interest and enthusiasm required for a subsequent career in entomology. Photo taken at Penn State's Great Insect Fair, 2012 hosted by Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences' Entomology Department © Penn State (CC-BY-NC 2.0)

Giving children the opportunity to learn more about insects at a young age may create the interest and enthusiasm required for a subsequent career in entomology. Photo taken at Penn State’s Great Insect Fair, 2012 hosted by Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences’ Entomology Department © Penn State (CC-BY-NC 2.0)

Increasing the production of food in an environmentally sustainable way is a major global issue. A report produced by the UK Cabinet Office in 2008 predicted that the global population will rise to 9 billion by 2050 from a current 6.8 billion. This increase in population will substantially increase demand for food, with food production needing to increase by 70% in the next 40 years whilst using the same agricultural footprint and without depleting natural resources. This challenge will require collaboration between universities, research institutes and industry in order to make the considerable advances in technology required to feed a growing population. There is now increasing concern that there are too few specialist graduates in the UK with the expert knowledge and skills required to tackle the issues surrounding global food security.

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Could Spider Venom Be Used As A Novel Insecticide For Major Crop Pests?

Could spider venom be used as a new novel insecticide? Image ©giovzaid85 via Flickr

Could spider venom be used as a new novel insecticide? Image ©giovzaid85 via Flickr

A new protein discovered in the venom of Australian tarantulas can also kill insect pests that consume the venom orally. The protein known as orally active insecticidal peptide-1 (OAIP-1) was found to be highly toxic to insects that consumed it, with a similar efficacy to the neonicotinoid insecticide imidacloprid. In particular, the protein was found to be highly toxic to the cotton bollworm, Helicoverpa zea.

Many spider species have evolved insecticidal toxins in their venom, which they inject into the prey through their fangs. Consequently it has often been presumed that the venom would not be toxic when ingested orally by insects pests, and therefore would not be suitable for use as an insecticide. Conversely, the scientists in this study discovered it is possible to isolate spider venom peptides with high levels of oral insecticidal activity. The team used the venom from Selenotypus plumipes which is a large tarantula native to Australia which despite its large size is not harmful to humans.

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Leave Them Bee- The Honeybees That Fearfully Avoid Hornets

Vespa velutina, a species of hornet that preys on honey bees © Daniel Solabarrieta CC-BY-SA 2.0

Vespa velutina, a species of hornet that preys on honey bees © Daniel Solabarrieta CC-BY-SA 2.0

In bees, fear is shown through avoiding dangerous food sites, thereby reducing the pollination of plants at the site. Scientists in this study looked at hornets (Vespa velutina and Vespa tropica) preying on the Asian honeybee (Apis cerana) in China. The hornets hunt bees on flowers and are themselves attacked by bees in defense. The study found that bees actively avoided feeders where predators were and decreased visitation to these risky sites. Bees treated the 4 fold more massive hornet species, Vespa tropica, as more dangerous, and these hornets received 4.6 fold more bee attackers than the smaller hornet species.

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Plantwise Photo Of The Month- September

The participants of of Plantwise Module 4 training in Sri Lanka, which took place in July. Module 4 is a training module which aims to look into managing and monitoring clinic data collected at plant clinics

The participants of of Plantwise Module 4 training in Sri Lanka, which took place in July. Module 4 is a training module which aims to look into managing and monitoring clinic data collected at plant clinics

This photo was taken in July when data management training and Module 4 training took part in Sri Lanka. Twenty-seven participants took part in the Module 4 training, in which methods for managing and monitoring clinic data collected at plant clinics in Sri Lanka were discussed.

Update: New Pest & Disease Records (21 Aug 13)

The Western Conifer Seed Bug Leptoglossus occidentalis, which has now been recorded in Russia and Ukraine

The Western Conifer Seed Bug Leptoglossus occidentalis, which has now been recorded in Russia and Ukraine. Image by Sally Crossthwaite via Flickr (CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)

We’ve selected a few of the latest new geographic, host and species records for plant pests and diseases from CAB Abstracts. Records this fortnight include a new species of rust fungus from India, the occurrence of Sclerotium rolfsii causing collar rot to Peperomia glabella in Argentina and the first report of the giant stem nematode Ditylenchus gigas from broad bean in Iran.

Click on the links to view the abstracts:

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Black Sigatoka Ravages Caribbean

Symptoms of the devastating disease Black Sigatoka on banana leaves. Image by CIAT International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

Symptoms of the devastating disease Black Sigatoka on banana leaves. Image by CIAT International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

Caribbean banana farmers are abandoning fields where crops have been badly affected by Black Sigatoka disease. Black Sigatoka has badly affected several countries in the region, including Dominica, St. Lucia, Grenada and Guyana. Black Sigatoka is considered the most destructive disease of bananas and plantains and is caused by the fungus Mycosphaerella fijiensis. It first arrived in the Caribbean in 1991, and has since established and spread throughout the region.   Severely infected leaves die, significantly reducing fruit yield and causing mixed and premature ripening of banana bunches.  As part of the response to Black Sigatoka outbreaks in the Caribbean the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) provided an intensive training programme in management of the disease in Dominica back in June this year. The workshop trained technicians from Dominica, St. Lucia, Grenada, Guyana and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The Caribbean’s tropical climate with high rainfall and high humidity is conducive to the spread of Black Sigatoka, hence the training program focused on the management of the disease, including the strategic and careful use of fungicides in order to manage the disease while aiming to prevent fungicide resistance developing. Last year, FAO provided an expert from Cuba to assess the management efforts of each country in the Caribbean affected by the disease, and identify areas for improvement. For each country, a management and action plan was created in conjunction with the CARICOM Secretariat, the OECS Secretariat, the Caribbean Agricultural Research & Development Institute (CARDI), Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture (IICA), CIRAD, the Ministry of Food Production in Trinidad & Tobago and the Banana Board of Jamaica.

There are factsheets available on Black Sigatoka and it’s management on the Plantwise Knowledge Bank, with factsheets in French, Spanish and English. Click here to see them. 

References:

‘FAO supporting battle against dreaded banana disease’, Dominica News Online, June 2013

‘FAO supporting battle against Black Sigatoka’, St Lucia Mirror Online, June 2013

‘St Vincent and the Grenadines: Banana farmers ‘abandoning fields’’, BBC News, August 2013

Plantwise Photo Of The Month – August

A farmer at a plant clinic in Grenada receives a demonstration of how to make a trap to catch coconut weevils using discarded plastic water bottles. Image courtesy of Shamela Rambadan (CABI).

A farmer at a plant clinic in Grenada receives a demonstration of how to make a trap to catch coconut weevils using discarded plastic water bottles. Image courtesy of Shamela Rambadan (CABI).

Herbicide Resistance Gene In Black-Grass and Rye-Grass Identified

Black-grass (Alopecurus myosuroides), a serious weed of arable fields that is widley resistant to herbicides © Bas Kers, via Flickr (CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Black-grass (Alopecurus myosuroides), a serious weed of arable fields that is widley resistant to herbicides © Bas Kers, via Flickr (CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0)

BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council) and Syngenta funded scientists at the University of York and University of Durham have discovered a gene called AmGSTF1 that plays a key role in controlling multiple herbicide resistance in black-grass (Alopecurus myosuroides) and annual rye-grass (Lolium rigidum). Now the gene that confers resistance has been identified, it is hoped that chemicals that inhibit the gene may be able to be used in future to make herbicides effective against resistant weeds.

Black-grass and rye-grass are widespread weeds which cause problems in cereal and oilseed rape farming. Management using herbicides is becoming increasingly difficult since both black-grass and rye-grass can acquire a single defence mechanism that confers resistance to multiple herbicides- known as multiple herbicide resistance. The genetics of multiple herbicide resistance have been poorly understood until recently, however scientists have now discovered that a gene producing an enzyme called glutathione transferase (GST) is responsible for multiple herbicide resistance. Scientists created transgenic thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) plants with the GST producing gene inserted which were resistant. GSTs are known to detoxify herbicides, but project leader Professor Rob Edwards of the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products at the University of York believes that the gene they discovered works as a kind of ‘master switch’ that activates a range of protective mechanisms in the plant. When resistant plants with the GST gene are sprayed with GST inhibiting chemicals, they become susceptible to herbicides. This demonstrates the potential for using GST inhibiting compounds in future herbicide formulations to manage resistant rye-grass and black-grass. These weeds are currently very difficult to manage due to their widespread herbicide resistance.

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New Mapping Tool Tracks Insecticide Resistance In Malaria Carrying Mosquitoes

A mosquito in the genus Anopheles, which can transmit human malaria. Image by Yasser via Flickr (CC-BY-2.0)

A mosquito in the genus Anopheles, which can transmit human malaria. Image by Yasser via Flickr (CC-BY-2.0)

Progress in malaria control in the past decade can be attributed largely to a massive increase in the number of insecticide based management programmes targeting malaria carrying mosquitoes, using methods that include indoor residual spraying and insecticide impregnated bed nets. The effectiveness of these management techniques is now being compromised by insecticide resistant mosquito populations. In 2012, the UN World Health Organisation (WHO) launched a strategic plan to help fight insecticide resistance in malaria vectors. A crucial part in the management of insecticide resistant mosquito populations is access to current information on insecticide resistant populations.  IR Mapper is a new interactive online mapping tool used to track insecticide resistance in mosquitoes. The tool collaborates reports of insecticide resistance in malaria vector mosquitoes into maps which aim to assist vector control strategies. Data consolidation for the programme was conducted by Swiss company Vestergaard Frandsen, the Kenyan Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).   To make this information available to users, an interactive map of all publicly available insecticide resistance data has been developed, with an interface developed by ESRI Eastern Africa

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Plantwise Photo Of The Month – July

A photograph taken at the Plantwise stand at the 18th CABI Review Conference which took place in Oxford from the 27-28th June. Director of the Plantwise Knowledge Bank, Shaun Hobbs, is pictured to the left addressing delegates at the stand. Image © CABI

A photograph taken at the Knowledge Bank stand at the 18th CABI Review Conference which took place in Oxford from the 27-28th June. Director of the Plantwise Knowledge Bank, Shaun Hobbs, is pictured to the left addressing delegates at the stand. Image © CABI

This photo shows the Plantwise Knowledge Bank booth at the CABI Review Conference 2013, which took place from the 27-28th June in Oxford, UK. 70 delegates from 36 countries attended the review conference, in which research priorities aimed at protecting global food supply were discussed.

To find out more about the review conference you can watch this video

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