July 21st, 2014
The South African citrus industry is on the hunt for answers as to how a consignment with citrus black spot (CBS) was intercepted in Europe, after receiving word from plant health authorities in the Netherlands today.

citrus – peel unravel panorama


The interception is the first this year and as a result the industry has been issued a notification of phytosanitary non-compliance.

“This is disappointing news particularly considering the steps taken to ensure compliance with, and demonstrate commitment to meeting, the European Union’s requirements, at enormous cost to the SA government and citrus industry – including testing regimes and a comprehensive CBS risk management,” Citrus Growers’ Association (CGA) of Southern Africa CEO Justin Chadwick said in a release.


“The Citrus Growers Association (CGA) will today dispatch an accredited expert to accompany representatives of the DAFF [Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries] to the farm in question to investigate how CBS could have slipped through the risk management net and, importantly, to propose any remedial measures necessary to prevent a reoccurrence.”

Chadwick said CGA’s special envoy to the EU, Deon Joubert, was dispatched to Europe today for discussions on the matter with all stakeholders.

“While today’s interception is a setback, it is also an opportunity for us to improve our risk management processes, which we will continue to implement in order to ensure unrestricted trade conditions for the immediate future,” Chadwick said.

The executive emphasized that for the long term, it was important to note that there has been no agreement since 1992 between South Africa and the European Union on the risk of CBS being transmitted by fruit.

“There is still no agreement on whether commercial fruit from areas where CBS is present is a risk to citrus-producing countries of the EU where CBS is absent, the magnitude of any possible risk, or the measures required for adequate mitigation of the actual risk,” he said.

“It remains imperative that this difference of opinion – and the science that underlies it – is resolved once and for all.”

He added the EU continued to be an important historic market for the South African citrus industry.

“The CGA calls on the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Minister Senzeni Zokwana, to prioritise the swift and amicable resolution of the CBS dispute with the European Union,” Chadwick said.

“The future of this important agricultural sector, the 120 000 jobs and their 1,2 million dependents depend on it.”

Photo: http://www.shutterstock.com





kealiapondnationalwildliferefugeByron Chin
Hawaii’s Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge


By John Upton
Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge
Byron Chin
Hawaii’s Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge
So far the EPA has refused to ban use of neonicotinoid insecticides — despite mounting evidence that they kill bees and other wildlife, despite a ban in the European Union, despite a lawsuit filed by activists and beekeepers.

But if the EPA is somehow still unclear on the dangers posed by neonics, it need only talk to the official who oversees federal wildlife refuges in the Pacific Northwest and Pacific Ocean.

Kevin Foerster, a regional boss with the National Wildlife Refuge System, directed his staff this month to investigate where neonics are being used in the refuges they manage — and to put an end to their use. Foerster’s office is worried that farming contractors that grow grasses and other forage crops for wildlife and corn and other grains for human consumption on refuge lands are using neonic pesticides and neonic-treated seeds. There are also fears that agency staff are inadvertently using plants treated with the poisons in restoration projects.

“The Pacific Region will begin a phased approach to eliminate the use of neonicotinoid insecticides (by any method) to grow agricultural crops for wildlife on National Wildlife Refuge System lands, effective immediately,” Forster wrote in a July 9 memo that was obtained and published last week by the nonprofit Center for Food Safety. “Though there will be some flexibility during the transition and we will take into account the availability of non-treated seed, Refuge managers are asked to exhaust all alternatives before allowing the use of neonicotinoids on National Wildlife Refuge System Lands in 2015.”

An information sheet attached to the memo notes that “severe declines in bee fauna have been a driving force behind the growing concern with neonics,” but that other species are also being affected. The information sheet also warns that pesticide drift, leaching, and water runoff can push neonics into wildlife habitats near farmed lands.

The use of the pesticides in U.S. wildlife refuges has triggered outcries and lawsuits from groups that include the Center for Food Safety. “Federal wildlife refuges were established to protect natural diversity,” said Paige Tomaselli, an attorney with the center. “Allowing chemical companies to profit by poisoning these important ecosystems violates their fundamental purpose and mission.”

Foerster’s move will help protect nearly 9,000 acres of refuges in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Hawaii, and the Pacific Islands from ecosystem-ravaging poisons.

But the memo has significance beyond that. It confirms that wildlife experts within the federal government are acutely aware of the dangers that the poisons pose. Now we just need the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the EPA to talk to each other.


Ghana’s favorite newspaper

July 11, 2014



Ghana tomatoes

Seth Negble a farmer and Chairman of the Ziope Area Vegetable Growers Association.

Over six hundred tomato farmers in the Agotime-Ziope District of the Volta Region have lost virtually every pesewa they invested into farming this season.

This follows the infestation of over 1,000 hectares of tomato farms in the area by a leaf-curling virus known as Tomato Yellow Leaf Curl Virus (TYLCV) transmitted either by silverleaf whiteflies or infected transplants.

Although different crops are cultivated at Agotime and Ziope, the cultivation of tomatoes on commercial basis is predominant among the local folks.

According to the farmers, their produce feeds markets across the country due to their quality and reasonable pricing.

Also, this serves as a source of livelihood to many households in the communities.

In early June, this year, the farmers reported that almost all their tomato crops were being attacked by the leaf curl virus.

They said that was the first time such a situation had occurred.

When BUSINESS GUIDE visited some of the farms at Ziope, most of the famers were rendered helpless.

The application of chemicals and spraying of insecticides could remedy the situation.

Seth Negble, a farmer and Chairman of the Ziope Area Vegetable Growers Association, noted that “we are in trouble. We don’t know what to do…”

He added that most of the farmers took loans and borrowed money from friends, relations and money lenders to cultivate the crops.

A physically-challenged farmer, Mauvi Bedla also affected by the plague, said they initially thought it was a minor infection and bought pesticides and other insecticides to curb the infection.

He added that “the only option is to clear this whole land and hope that a miracle happens to get us to cultivate in the next tomato season.”

The affected farmers appealed to government and other faith-based institutions to come to their aid to save their only source of livelihood.

The District Agricultural Officer, Noah Adomina, explained that his outfit would intensify its outreach programme to educate farmers on the need to cover their crops at the nursery stage to prevent a recurrence of the infection.

The situation is likely to result in the shortage of tomatoes in various markets of the country, particularly those served by Agotime and Ziope.

“There is an increase in tomato prices in the region, particularly Ho and its environs…the price of tomato will not fall like how it happened in the past.”


Though it can take up to three weeks before any symptoms develop, the most common indicator of the disease is the yellowing and upward curling of the leaves, which may also appear crumply.

The infection can be confused with several other tomato disorders such as tomato big bud, tomato yellow top, physiological leaf roll, as well as phosphate and magnesium deficiency.

From Fred Duodu, Agotime-Ziope




Contact: Caroline Wood
Society for Experimental Biology



Many modern crops have high productivity, but have lost their ability to produce certain defence chemicals, making them vulnerable to attack by insects and pathogens. Swiss scientists are exploring ways to help protect 21st century maize by re-arming it with its ancestral chemical weapons.

The researchers, led by Dr Ted Turlings (University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland), found that many varieties of modern maize have lost their ability to produce a chemical called E-β-caryophyllene. This chemical is normally produced by traditional ancestors of modern maize roots when the plant is under attack from invading corn rootworms. The chemical attracts ‘friendly’ nematode worms from the surrounding soil which, in turn, kill the corn rootworm larvae within a few days.

The scientists used genetic transformation to investigate if restoring E-β-caryophyllene emission would protect maize plants against corn rootworms. After introducing a gene from oregano, the transformed maize plants released E- β-caryophyllene constantly. As a result, these plants attracted more nematodes and suffered less damage from an infestation of Western Corn Rootworms.

“Plant defences can be direct, such as the production of toxins, or indirect, using volatile substances that attract the natural enemies of the herbivores” says lead scientist, Dr Ted Turlings (University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland). One of the types of toxins that maize plants produce against their enemies is a class of chemicals called benzoxazinoids. These protect maize against a range of insects, bacteria and fungi pests, yet some species have developed resistance against these toxins and may even exploit them to identify the most nutritious plant tissues.

These results show how knowledge of natural plant defences can be practically applied in agricultural systems. “We are studying the wild ancestor of maize (teosinte) to find out which other chemical defences may have been lost during domestication of maize” Dr Turlings added. “These lost defences might then be reintroduced into modern cultivars”.

Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog


The latest on the Bogia Coconut Syndrome
by LUIGI GUARINO on JULY 18, 2014

The main reason for my quick trip to Papua New Guinea last week was to get up to date on Bogia Coconut Syndrome (BCS). Readers with a long(ish) memory may remember that we blogged about this some time back. Quick recap. BCS is a phytoplasma disease first reported about 20 years ago in Yaro Plantation, near Bogia, Madang Province, on the northern coast on PNG.

Since then, it has devastated coconuts in a large contiguous area SE of Bogia, but it has also leap-frogged to a number of sites further along the coast towards Madang and beyond. In 2013, it was spotted in Mobdub, which is only a few kilometres from the Stewart Research Station of PNG’s Cocoa & Coconut Research Institute (CCI), home of COGENT’s International Coconut Genebank for the South Pacific (a collection placed under Article 15 of the International Treaty through a tripartite agreement involving the PNG government, Bioversity on behalf of COGENT and FAO). Here’s Alfred Kembu, the curator of the collection, talking about it in a video by Roland Bourdeix, who used to be the coordinator of COGENT, the global coconut network:


There are more videos on the disease and the threat it poses to the collection by COGENT and CIRAD. The closest outbreak to the collection is now about 2 km away. There has been a ban in place in Madang for 3 years now on the movement of nuts that have not been de-husked or are sprouting, as the pattern of movement suggests human agency.


At one of these outbreak sites1, first spotted in 2009, the affected area went from a radius of 200 m in 2011 to 1800 m in 2013; all palms are expected to be dead there within 2-5 years. The disease can kill 1-5 palms per month, meaning that a 1 ha plantation can be destroyed in 4 years. This is an extremely dangerous disease for local smallholders, as well as for the genebank. The same phytoplasma is suspected to affect other palm crops, such as oil palm and betel nut, but also banana and possibly others. This photo shows palms at different stages of development of the disease. In the final stage, nothing but the stem is left.

I went to Madang to take part in the inception workshop of the ACIAR-funded project “Bogia Coconut Syndrome in Papua New Guinea and related phytoplasma syndromes: Developing biological knowledge and a risk management strategy,” which is led by Prof. Geoff Gurr of Charles Sturt University, Queensland, Australia. The project activities, which will last four years, center on intensive and repeated surveying and sampling of both plants and insects in a number outbreak areas (in particular for DNA analysis using “loop-mediated isothermal amplification,” or LAMP, which is apparently a method of identifying phytoplasma DNA which is more efficient and cheaper than standard PCR), followed by a series of transmission experiments.

Although the main output will be basic scientific information on BCS (its causal organism, location in the host plant(s), possible alternate hosts, vector(s) etc, none of these are currently entirely clear), a management plan for the disease will also be devised on the basis of the results. The two-day workshop focused on discussing methodological and logistical issues pertaining to the project, which will involve a number of other PNG institutes apart from CCI, but we also talked about the possible relocation of the germplasm collection to a safer locality. Not quite ready for that yet, but we’ll keep working on it. Here is a shot of part of the collection, by the way: talls on the left, dwarfs on the right, cacao in the understory, which is sold to generate some income to help keep the collection going.

We’ll keep you posted…


Fungi borrowed bacterial gene again and again
Multiple independent gene transfers gave fungi ability to colonize plant roots.

Brian Owens
02 July 2014

The microorganism that causes potato blight — seen on an apple-tree leaf in this coloured scanning electron micrograph — has acquired genes from bacteria.

A single gene from bacteria has been donated to fungi on at least 15 occasions. The discovery shows that an evolutionary shortcut once thought to be restricted to bacteria is surprisingly common in more complex, eukaryotic life.

Scientist killed on MH17 flight fought for access to HIV therapy
Quantum gravity suggests black holes will turn into ‘white holes’
Understanding the effects of weight-loss surgery
Bacteria frequently trade genes back and forth with their neighbours, gaining abilities and traits that enable them to adapt quickly to new environments. More complex organisms, by contrast, generally have to make do with the slow process of gene duplication and mutation.

There are a few examples of gene swapping between eukaryotes — the domain of life that includes fungi, plants and animals — and even from bacteria to eukaryotes (see ‘Bacterial gene helps coffee beetle get its fix’). But such events, known as horizontal gene transfer, were thought to be rare.

But Daniel Muller, a microbial ecologist at the University of Lyons in France, and his colleagues have cast doubt on that assumption after studying bacteria in the soil around the roots of plants. They found that the bacterial gene acdS, used to promote the growth of plant roots, was also present in several types of fungus. Their work is published today in Proceedings of the Royal Society B1.

Can’t get enough
Muller and his colleagues scanned the genomes of 149 eukaryotes, and found acdS-like genes in 65 of them — 61 in fungi and 4 in parasitic microorganisms called oomycetes, including Phytophthora infestans, the microbe responsible for the Irish potato famine. After analysing the organisms’ genetic family trees, the researchers determined that the most likely explanation was that three different kinds of bacterium had donated the gene to the fungi and oomycetes in a total of 15 different horizontal-gene-transfer events.

Related stories
Microbiology: Resistance fighters
Bacterial gene helps coffee beetle get its fix
How the jellyfish got its sting
More related stories
“What we thought happens only sometimes, actually happens at a greater scale,” says Muller, “with multiple donors and multiple recipients.”

Muller also showed that the bacterial gene seems to retain its original function of enhancing the communication between the organism and its plant hosts to help it better colonize roots.

Eukaryotes may therefore be able to suddenly gain characteristics that help them adapt to new environments more frequently than biologists thought. “Bacteria are so abundant and diverse, they could be a rich reservoir of new genes and functions for eukaryotes,” says Muller.

Fuzzy details
Charles Davis, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, says the work shows that the “promiscuity” of gene transfer between bacteria and eukaryotes is unexpectedly high. But it faces the same problem as many such studies: the analysis of the genetic trees is not detailed enough to clarify where and when the transfers took place. “They can’t exclude the possibility that the number of transfers has been overestimated,” he says.

The other big question, he says, is how did it happen? “What’s the ecological context?”

Muller agrees that the mechanism of the gene transfer remains a mystery. His team did not find any evidence of transposable elements — bits of DNA that can ‘jump’ from one part of the genome to another and are typically associated with the appearance of new genetic material. They also found no other bacterial genes near the acdS gene in the fungi, although gene transfer normally would invole more than one gene. But however it works, the fact that the fungi and bacteria live close together in the soil near plants would provide plenty of chances for genes to move across.

Davis agrees that physical proximity is key to horizontal gene transfer: “That’s why I study it in parasitic systems,” he says. “It makes the relationship between donor and host more obvious.”

Nature doi:10.1038/nature.2014.15496

Bruto, M., Prigent-Combaret, C., Luis, P., Moënne-Loccoz, Y. & Muller, D. Proc. R. Soc. B. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2014.0848 (2014).


Weed-sniffing dogs join the fight against invasive species

By Jim Meyer


There aren’t a lot of career options for dogs. Basically they’ve been limited to law enforcement, imperial transport, and designated hitter — until now. A crack team of canines is on the hunt for invasive species.

The dogs, which are equipped with GPS units because we live in the future, search the countryside looking for invasive weeds, snails, and, for the lucky dogs, scat. Under the auspices of the Montana nonprofit Working Dogs for Conservation, it’s a career that combines two of a dog’s favorite things: wandering about and smelling poop.

Jodi Helmer at Takepart has the rest of the tail (ahem):

Seamus was trained to sniff out Dyer’s woad, a noxious weed that takes over rangeland, choking out native plants that are an important source of food and habitat for wildlife.

The dog often works off-leash, crisscrossing quadrants of the park until he picks up the scent of Dyer’s woad. When he stops, the GPS in his bright orange doggy backpack marks the location of the invasive weed. [His handler, Aimee] Hurt also makes note of the coordinates and will return to spray the plant. …

A 2010 study published in the journal Invasive Plant Science and Management found that dogs sniffed out twice the number of invasive plants that humans could detect with their eyes.

The dogs are a great tool in the fight against non-natives, but there are limitations to their work. So far, they are only on the trail of terrestrial invasives, so lionfish and zebra muscles are safe for the moment. But with the right training, who knows?


This Canine Conservationist Protects the Environment by Sniffing Out Invasive Weeds and Wildlife, Takepart
Jim Meyer is a Baltimore-based stand-up comedian, actor, retired roller derby announcer, and freelance writer. Follow his exploits at his website and on Twitter.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 206 other followers