Update: Plant Health News (13 Aug 14)

A UF/IFAS study has found a simple solution for monitoring the spotted wind drosophila © Hannah Burrack (CC BY)
A UF/IFAS study has found a simple solution for monitoring the spotted wind drosophila © Hannah Burrack (CC BY)

Here’s a taste of some of the latest stories about plant health, including  the management of Kanjarai leaf spot of banana in India, a UF/IFAS study into monitoring a major berry pest and the invention of the most efficient technology of vegetable growing in Japan.

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Cassava virus resistance breakthrough for Africa

Cassava roots
Cassava is a staple food for millions but is susceptible to viruses that make it unpalatable © Seth Anderson (CC BY SA license)

One of the worst diseases of the tuber crop, cassava, in sub-Saharan Africa is Cassava brown streak disease (CBSD). Since its resurgence in East Africa in recent years, it is now spreading to Central and Western Africa. The other major disease of cassava in this region, Cassava mosaic disease (CMD), can also cause widespread damage to the crop, however there already CMD-resistant varieties of cassava available. Until now, very little natural resistance to CBSD has been found. Plant scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich have combined natural resistance to CMD with modifications of the cassava genome to develop a variety of cassava resistant to both CBSD and CMD that can be grown in Africa. As cassava is a staple food to millions of people, this new variety has the potential to halt the spread of the disease and prevent famine from crop losses. Continue reading

Aphids Run Scared from GM Wheat

Wheat fields have just become a lot scarier (Source: RaeAllen, Flickr)

Genetically Modified wheat, gifted with the ability to fight off plant pest attacks, is being grown in England. In a situation similar to the film The Happening, wheat crops are now able to defend themselves against aphids. In the barely-believable movie, plants gained the ability to release chemicals that affected people’s behaviour in order to defend themselves from the polluting ways of humanity. Whilst we are not quite at that stage yet, the ability to produce plants that can defend themselves is an important step in reducing the use of chemical insecticides. Some plants naturally evolve defences against herbivores, but in this case, the wheat crop’s chemical defences have been specifically chosen by scientists.

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Creating super banana plants in the fight against nematode worms

Many banana plants cultivated in Africa are damaged by root nematodes © IITA

Scientists in the UK and Uganda are developing a genetically modified (GM) variety of banana that is resistant to nematode worms, which account for a high percentage of banana crop losses in Africa. It is estimated that the losses of crops due to nematodes amounts to $125 billion a year. Currently, nematodes are controlled using pesticides that can be toxic to humans and other organisms. The project, run by the Africa College at the University of Leeds and funded by BBSRC and DfID, has provided training to African-based scientists and aims to conduct trials of the banana plants in several African countries. Continue reading

Can science feed the world?

This was the question posed by Nature’s Special recently. In other words, how can we feed the Earth’s growing population in such a way that no-one goes hungry and nature is left with some land and water of its own? Their answer can be broadly summed up by what Britain’s Royal Society call “sustainable intensification of global agriculture”. Their three main proposed strategies are increased use of GM crops, selective breeding and informed land use choices.