Transgenic Bt crops have been grown around the world since the 1990s and have contributed to increased yields by controlling agricultural pests. Due to the importance of this technology, there has been continuous study into the development of resistance to Bt crops and how best to avoid this happening. A recent investigation into the rapid spread of Bt resistance in South Africa has revealed one of the more surprising discoveries to date, that the maize stalk borer (Busseola fusca) has evolved Bt maize resistance inherited as a dominant trait for the first time. This has significant impacts on the management of Bt crops, as current methods for sustaining susceptibility rely on the recessive inheritance of Bt resistance.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Fundación Carlos Slim have announced a partnership in support of efforts by the Centro Internacional de Mejoramiento de Maíz y Trigo (International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center CIMMYT) in Mexico to develop and disseminate higher-yielding, more resilient wheat and maize varieties. Continue reading
Guatemala has declared a state of agricultural emergency after coffee rust fungus has affected approximately 193,000ha of coffee, equating to 70% of the national crop. As a result of the outbreak, Guatemala is releasing $13.7m (£8.7m) in emergency aid to help farmers buy pesticides and to inform farmers on ways to manage the disease. Honduras and Costa Rica have already declared national emergency and El Salvador and Panama are also affected.
Coffee is a major export crop in many Central American countries and it is thought that this disease outbreak, which has been called “the worst seen in Central America and Mexico” by John Vandermeer, ecologist at the University of Michigan, will lead to big job losses. The Institute of Coffee in Costa Rica has estimated that the latest coffee rust outbreak may reduce the 2013-2014 harvest by 50% or more in the worst affected areas.
To find out more information about coffee rust view our Plantwise Knowledge Bank- Coffee Leaf Rust PDF booklet.
Holly leaves are a quintessential part of Christmas, whether they are hung up as decorations in boughs and wreaths, as a seasonal garnish on top of Christmas puddings or on the front of Christmas cards. Now new research published in the Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society has connected a combination of herbivore activity and epigenetics to the prickliness of holly leaves.
A number of studies have supported the idea that increased plant prickliness is a response to herbivory by large browsing animals such as deer and goats. Holly (Ilex aquifolium) is a small evergreen tree found throughout Europe and North Africa. The leaves of holly can either be smooth or with a variable number of tough spines along the margins. The production of these spiny leaves is a defence mechanism against herbivores. Holly trees sometimes only have one leaf type, but typically they have both prickly and non-prickly leaves on the same plant (known as heterophylly) with the proportion of the two types depending on plant age, size and recent browsing history.
“The ability of an organism to change its characteristics in response to environmental variations is known as phenotypic plasticity and it is a key driving factor in the evolution of a species” said Dr Carlos Herrera from the National Research Council of Spain (CSIC) in Seville. Continue reading
The University of Illinois has received a five year, $25 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to improve the photosynthetic properties of key food crops, such as rice and cassava. The project, entitled ‘RIPE- Realising Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency’ has the potential to benefit farmers by improving the productivity of staple food crops. Increasing photosynthetic efficiency has the potential to increase yields and reduce the use of irrigation and fertilisation, however to date there has been limited research on photosynthetic properties of crop plants. The University of Illinois research team will apply recent advances in photosynthetic research, model simulations and crop bioengineering to the RIPE project. Stephen Long, the Project Director and Professor of Crop Sciences and Plant Biology at Illinois said:
“The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation predict that the world will need to increase staple crop yields by 20% by 2050. Photosynthesis promises a new area, ripe for exploitation that will provide part of the yield jump the world needs to maintain food security”
Bread wheat (Triticum aestivum) is a globally important crop that accounts for 20% of the calories consumed by the world’s human population. Major work is underway to increase wheat production by expanding knowledge of the wheat genome and analysing key traits, however due to the large size and great complexity of the bread wheat genome progress has been slow. Now scientists from a number of organisations including the Centre for Genome Research at the University of Liverpool, the University of Bristol, University of California and the US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research service have been working to sequence the genome and identify several classes of genes involved in crop productivity. The analysis provides a resource for improving this major crop by identifying variation in useful traits such as yield and nutrient content, thereby contributing to sustainable increases in wheat production.
Soybean (Glycine max) is an important crop that provides a sustainable source of protein and oil worldwide in countries such as the USA, Brazil, Argentina, India and many African countries, including Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda. The soybean cyst nematode Heterodera glycines is a microscopic roundworm that feeds on the roots of soybean and is a major constraint to soybean production. This nematode causes more than US$1 billion in yield losses annually in the United States alone, making it the most economically important pathogen on soybean. For over 50 years the planting of resistant cultivars and crop rotation have been the main management strategy for this pathogen, and only a few resistant plant types are used due to undesirable traits in other resistant varieties of soybean. Moreover, the increase in virulent populations of the nematode on most known resistant plant sources coupled with the very limited knowledge of soybean resistance mechanism makes the development of new approaches for control of soybean cyst nematode a necessity. Continue reading