Archive for the ‘Pests’ Category

With GMO insect-resistant sugarcane approval, Brazilian farmers poised to reap benefits of biotech pipeline


In June, Brazil became the second country, after Indonesia, to approve the commercial cultivation of genetically engineered insect-resistant sugarcane designed to naturally ward off the potentially devastating sugarcane borer. The borer causes an estimated $1.5 billion in losses to Brazilian farmers each year.

“Breeding programs could not produce plants resistant to this pest, and the existing chemical controls are both not effective and severely damaging to the environment,” said Adriana Hemerly, professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

Centro de Tecnologia Canavieria SA (CTC), which developed the Bt sugarcane, is conducting research to add additional traits that could, if approved, make the sugarcane resistant to another insect and tolerant to targeted herbicides.  CTC has estimated it will take at least three years for the first sugar produced from the sugarcane to be exported. Brazil could be the first nation to sell GE sugarcane commercially, since Indonesia has not yet started growing the crop.

Brazil exports sugar to about 150 countries and some 60 percent of them do not demand regulatory approval to import sugar made from genetically modified organisms.

Bt sugarcane will be the fourth GE crop produced in Brazil following the introduction of soybeans, corn and cotton. Brazil first began to grow GE crops in the early 1990s when farmers in the south imported GE soybean seeds from Argentina. However, in 1998, the government banned the sale of GE crops after protests from anti-biotechnology advocacy groups and a lawsuit from the Brazilian Institute for Consumer Defense.

In 2003, the government lifted the ban and in the same year issued labeling requirements that required producers and sellers to identify GE ingredients if they contain more than one percent of raw material derived from GE crops. The Biosafety Act passed in 2005 outlined the regulations for biotechnology agriculture research and created the Brazilian Technical Committee of National Biosafety to oversee the biotechnology industry and approve all field tests.

Farmers in Brazil have embraced the technology. According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), Brazil is the second largest producer of GE crops after the US, and accounts for 26.5% of global hectarage— up from 18.9% in 2011.

According to ISAAA: “Brazil’s total biotech crop hectarage of 49.14 million is an increase of 11%, from 2015…The 4.9 million hectare increase was by far the highest increase in any country worldwide in 2016 making Brazil the engine of growth in biotech crops worldwide. Biotech crops include 32.7 million hectares of soybeans; 15.7 million of corn and 0.8 million of cotton. The total planted area of these three crops in Brazil was estimated at 52.6 million hectares of which 49.14 million hectares or 93.4% was biotech.”  More than 93% of Brazilian growers of corn, cotton and soybeans now opt for GE varieties.

The government is actively encouraging research and development for additional GE crops.  According to the most recent USDA Report on Brazil’s Agricultural Biotechnology, “Currently, there are a number of biotech crops in the pipeline waiting for commercial approval, of which the most important are sugarcane, potatoes, papaya, rice and citrus. Except for sugarcane, most of these crops are in the early stages of developments and approvals are not expected within the next five years.”

GE dry edible beans, which were approved for cultivation in 2011, are expected to be commercialized sometime this year, as is GE eucalyptus, approved for cultivation in 2015. Some environmental NGOs such as Greenpeace, GM Watch, ASPTA (Advisory Services for Projects in Alternative Agriculture) and the World Rain Forest Movement, and some consumer organizations, still aggressively oppose the technology.

The ASPTA says it remains opposed to the use of GE seeds because “the technology is not necessary”, threatens the diversity of native seeds, could lead to the contamination of organic and conventional crops, increases market concentration and an oligopoly of the seeds markets, increases the use of herbicides, increases farmers’ “dependence on a technology package that forces seed purchases for many years” and “causes already confirmed environmental risks and others that are unpredictable.”

For the most part, Brazilian consumers are not well-educated about the debate over GE foods. The USDA Report on Brazilian Agriculture Biotechnology notes, “74 percent of Brazilian consumers have never heard of biotech products. In general, Brazilian consumers are disengaged from the biotechnology debate as they are more concerned about price, quality and the expiration date of their foods. However, a small number of consumers avoid GE plant products and their derivatives.” A 2015 survey of consumers noted “they are more concerned with issues related to contamination (biological and chemical) and nutritional characteristics of foods than plant biotechnology.”

Brazil’s commitment to GE biotechnology has enabled it to solidify its position as one of the major agricultural producers in the world. This is particularly important as agriculture has been one of the bright spots in a dismal economy undermined by political scandal and a sharp fall in the prices of Brazil’s non-agricultural commodities such as iron ore and oil.

Brazil is the second largest global producer of soybeans behind the US. It’s also the largest exporter of soybeans, the third largest producer and exporter of corn, the fifth largest producer of cotton and the fourth largest exporter.  These crops are all overwhelmingly produced from GE seeds.  It is also the second largest producer of beef in the world after the US and is tied with India as the largest exporter. The beef industry is heavily dependent on GE animal feed. As a result, a substantial portion of Brazil’s exports depend upon GE technology.

GE crops have become a major pillar of the economy. They are likely to become even more important in coming years as new GE crops are commercialized. GE eucalyptus trees, for instance, grow 40% faster than the traditional variety and can be used for paper, as fuel pellets for power stations and potentially to fuel cars.

Stanley Hirsch, chief executive of FuturaGene, an Israeli biotech company that has been involved in developing eucalyptus trees in Brazil, noted, “If you can increase yields by 40%, you can greatly reduce prices.  Eucalyptus trees are harvested at seven years – in Brazil we are looking to produce the same sized trees in 5.5 years.”

Researchers also have developed an edible GE bean resistant to the golden mosaic virus. Annual losses from the disease vary between 90,000 tons and 280,000 tons. Reducing the losses is of particular importance as beans are a major staple crop in Brazil.

Steven E. Cerier is a freelance international economist and a frequent contributor to the Genetic Literacy Project.


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Date: July 18, 2017
Source: eLife
Researchers have discovered how a severe rice virus reproduces inside the small brown planthopper, a major carrier of the virus.

A small brown planthopper — a member of a species known for being a major carrier of rice stripe virus — feeding on a rice plant.
Credit: Junjie Zhu

Researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Zoology have discovered how a severe rice virus reproduces inside the small brown planthopper, a major carrier of the virus.

“Most plant viruses depend on insects to carry them between plants, and many can reproduce inside the cells of these carrier insects, or ‘vectors’, without actually harming them,” says Feng Cui, Professor of Zoology. “RSV, one of the most notorious plant viruses, is carried by the small brown planthopper and, once inside the cells, manages to achieve a balance with the insect’s immune system.”

Viral infections in animal hosts activate a pathway by which a type of enzyme, called c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK), is signalled to respond. But how exactly viruses regulate this pathway in vectors remains an open question, and Cui says the answer would provide important clues for intervening in the spread of plant viruses.

To address this question, Cui and her team explored the effect of RSV on the JNK signalling pathway in the small brown planthopper. Studying interactions between proteins, and using an analytical method to determine the compounds that are important for the JNK signalling pathway, they found that the virus activates the pathway in various ways — especially through the interaction of a planthopper protein called G protein pathway suppressor 2 (GPS2), and a viral protein called capsid protein.

“The interaction between these two proteins promotes RSV reproduction inside the planthopper, ultimately leading to disease outbreak when the insect carries the virus among rice crops,” says first author and postdoctoral researcher Wei Wang.

“We discovered that RSV infection increased the level of another protein called Tumor Necrosis Factor-α (TNF-α) and decreased the level of GPS2 in the insect vector. The virus capsid, which stores all of RSV’s genetic material, competitively binds GPS2 to stop it from inhibiting the JNK activation machinery. JNK activation then promotes RSV replication in the vector, while inhibiting this pathway causes a significant reduction in virus production, therefore delaying disease outbreak in plants.”

The findings suggest that inhibiting the JNK pathway, either by lowering JNK expressions, strengthening interactions with GPS2 or weakening the effects of TNF-a, could be beneficial for rice agriculture.

“Such inhibition could be achieved through breeding or other means of genetic modification,” Wang concludes. “In some cases, it could be possible to administer the appropriate chemical compounds to rice plants to reduce the spread of RSV.”

Story Source:

Materials provided by eLifeyvtxvtcywxufvr. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Wei Wang, Wan Zhao, Jing Li, Lan Luo, Le Kang, Feng Cui. The c-Jun N-terminal kinase pathway of a vector insect is activated by virus capsid protein and promotes viral replication. eLife, 2017; 6 DOI: 10.7554/eLife.26591


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University of Greenwich/Natural Resources Institute

For a digital version of the handbook go to:


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The Life Cycle of Fall Armyworm

1d ago

Fall armyworm life cycleThe Fall armyworm, Spodoptera frugiperda, is a major invasive pest in Africa. It has a voracious appetite and feeds on more than 80 plant species, including maize, rice, sorghum and sugarcane. Another feature which makes it an incredibly successful invasive species is its ability to spread and reproduce quickly. CABI have developed a poster to show the life cycle of the Fall armyworm, which includes egg, 6 growth stages of caterpillar development (instars), pupa and adult moth. Click here to view the full poster, or read about the life cycle below.

Day 1-3
100-200 eggs are generally laid on the underside of the leaves typically near the base of the plant, close to the junction of the leaf and the stem. These are covered in protective scales rubbed off from the moths abdomen after laying. When populations are high, the eggs may be laid higher up the plants or on nearby vegetation.

Day 3-6
Growth stages 1-3: After hatching, the young caterpillars feed superficially, usually on the undersides of leaves. Feeding results in semitransparent patches, or “windows”, on the leaves. Young caterpillars can spin silken threads which catch the wind and transport the caterpillars to a new plant. The leaf whorl is preferred in young plants, whereas the leaves around the cob silks are attractive in older plants. If the plant has already developed cobs then the caterpillar will eat its way through the protective leaf bracts into the side of the cob where it begins to feed on the developing kernels. Feeding is more active during the night.

Day 6-14
Growth stages 4-6: By stages 4-6, the fall armyworm will have reached the protective region of the whorl, where it does the most damage, resulting in ragged holes in the leaves. Feeding on young plants can kill the growing point, resulting in no new leaves or cobs. Often only 1 or 2 caterpillars found in each whorl, as they become cannibalistic when larger and will eat each other to reduce competition for food. Large quantities of frass (caterpillar poo) , which resembles sawdust, will be present.

Day 14-23
After approximately 14 days the fully grown caterpillar will drop to the ground. The caterpillar will then burrow 2-8 cm into the soil before pupating. The loose silk oval shape cocoon is 20-30 mm in length. If the soil is too hard then the caterpillar will cover itself in leaf debris before pupating. After approximately 8-9 days the adult moth emerges to restart the cycle.

This information has been adapted from ‘Fall Armyworm: Life cycle and damage to Maize’
To read more about what CABI is doing to help control Fall Armyworm in sub-Saharan Africa, please visit www.cabi.org/fallarmyworm

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  1. Reblogged this on The Invasives Blog.


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Examples of eight fruit fly brains with regions highlighted that are significantly correlated with (clockwise from top left) walking, stopping, increased jumping, increased female chasing, increased wing angle, increased wing grooming, increased wing extension, and backing up.

Kristin Branson

Artificial intelligence helps scientists map behavior in the fruit fly brain

Can you imagine watching 20,000 videos, 16 minutes apiece, of fruit flies walking, grooming, and chasing mates? Fortunately, you don’t have to, because scientists have designed a computer program that can do it faster. Aided by artificial intelligence, researchers have made 100 billion annotations of behavior from 400,000 flies to create a collection of maps linking fly mannerisms to their corresponding brain regions.

Experts say the work is a significant step toward understanding how both simple and complex behaviors can be tied to specific circuits in the brain. “The scale of the study is unprecedented,” says Thomas Serre, a computer vision expert and computational neuroscientist at Brown University. “This is going to be a huge and valuable tool for the community,” adds Bing Zhang, a fly neurobiologist at the University of Missouri in Columbia. “I am sure that follow-up studies will show this is a gold mine.”

At a mere 100,000 neurons—compared with our 86 billion—the small size of the fly brain makes it a good place to pick apart the inner workings of neurobiology. Yet scientists are still far from being able to understand a fly’s every move.

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To conduct the new research, computer scientist Kristin Branson of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Ashburn, Virginia, and colleagues acquired 2204 different genetically modified fruit fly strains (Drosophila melanogaster). Each enables the researchers to control different, but sometimes overlapping, subsets of the brain by simply raising the temperature to activate the neurons.

Then it was off to the Fly Bowl, a shallowly sloped, enclosed arena with a camera positioned directly overhead. The team placed groups of 10 male and 10 female flies inside at a time and captured 30,000 frames of video per 16-minute session. A computer program then tracked the coordinates and wing movements of each fly in the dish. The team did this about eight times for each of the strains, recording more than 20,000 videos. “That would be 225 straight days of flies walking around the dish if you watched them all,” Branson says.

Next, the team picked 14 easily recognizable behaviors to study, such as walking backward, touching, or attempting to mate with other flies. This required a researcher to manually label about 9000 frames of footage for each action, which was used to train a machine-learning computer program to recognize and label these behaviors on its own. Then the scientists derived 203 statistics describing the behaviors in the collected data, such as how often the flies walked and their average speed. Thanks to the computer vision, they detected differences between the strains too subtle for the human eye to accurately describe, such as when the flies increased their walking pace by a mere 5% or less.

“When we started this study we had no idea how often we would see behavioral differences,” between the different fly strains, Branson says. Yet it turns out that almost every strain—98% in all—had a significant difference in at least one of the behavior statistics measured. And there were plenty of oddballs: Some superjumpy flies hopped 100 times more often than normal; some males chased other flies 20 times more often than others; and some flies practically never stopped moving, whereas a few couch potatoes barely budged.

Then came the mapping. The scientists divided the fly brain into a novel set of 7065 tiny regions and linked them to the behaviors they had observed. The end product, called the Browsable Atlas of Behavior-Anatomy Maps, shows that some common behaviors, such as walking, are broadly correlated with neural circuits all over the brain, the team reports today in Cell. On the other hand, behaviors that are observed much less frequently, such as female flies chasing males, can be pinpointed to tiny regions of the brain, although this study didn’t prove that any of these regions were absolutely necessary for those behaviors. “We also learned that you can upload an unlimited number of videos on YouTube,” Branson says, noting that clips of all 20,000 videos are available online.

Branson hopes the resource will serve as a launching pad for other neurobiologists seeking to manipulate part of the brain or study a specific behavior. For instance, not much is known about female aggression in fruit flies, and the new maps gives leads for which brain regions might be driving these actions.

Because the genetically modified strains are specific to flies, Serre doesn’t think the results will be immediately applicable to other species, such as mice, but he still views this as a watershed moment for getting researchers excited about using computer vision in neuroscience. “I am usually more tempered in my public comments, but here I was very impressed,” he says.

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Broad mites in ornamental crops – Part 1: Challenges and treatments

Broad mites can be controlled using insecticides or biological control.

Photo 1. Broad mite. Photo by Bruce Watt, University of Main, Bugwood.org.

Photo 1. Broad mite. Photo by Bruce Watt, University of Main, Bugwood.org.


Western flower thrips and aphids have long been the most challenging insect pests in greenhouses. More recently, broad mites (Photo 1) have been posing a more serious threat for greenhouse growers. Broad mites are a potential threat to some of the most important Michigan floriculture crops. According to my previous article, “Attention scouts: Crops that are insect “magnets” in the greenhouse,” the top 10 plants that are attractive to broad mites are New Guinea impatiens (Photo 2), zonal geraniums, Thunbergia, Torenia, verbena, Rieger begonias, Scaevola, angel wing begonias, ivy geranium and buddleia.

So, why are broad mites so concerning? Broad mites are concerning because they are microscopic and are very difficult to see with the common 5x to 10x hand lens. You must send samples to a diagnostic lab or contact your local Michigan State University Extension floriculture educator for a positive diagnosis.

In addition, greenhouse scouts and growers usually notice the plant damage after the populations are already very high and the crops are unsalable. Often times, the damage to the upper leaves near the apical meristem is only noticeable 20 to 30 days after they began infesting the crop.

The greatest populations of broad mites when scouting crops are often not on the plants with the greatest amount of damage. By the time the damage is significant, broad mites have moved on to the neighboring plants with “fresh, new, tasty” tissue. Therefore, greenhouse scouts should actually sample the plants adjacent to those with heavy feeding damage.

broad mite damage

Photo 2. Broad mite damage on New Guinea Impatiens. Photo by Heidi Lindberg, MSU Extension.

The following products are recommendedfor broad mites: Avid, Akari, Judo, Pylon, SanMite, and 2% horticultural oil. For growers interested in using biological control, the predatory mite, Amblyseius swirskii (Photo 3), has been shown to be effective against broad mites. However, cuttings and propagules must be free of pesticide residue in order to effectively use biological control for broad mites. Contact your young plant or cutting supplier to learn about the plant’s pesticide history.

a. swirskii

Photo 3. Amblyseius swirskii. Photo by Evergreen Growers Supply.

One study in Belgium showed that using A. swirskii is actually more effective than the standard chemical treatment (Abamectin) in Belgium. When researchers released broad mites (P. latus) on Rhododendron plants, all of the following treatments were more effective than the weekly abamectin spray:

  • Three weekly releases of A. swirskii beginning in April
  • One release of A. swirskii during April
  • One release of A. swirskii during May
  • One release of A. swirskii with the additional food source Artemia during April
  • One release of A. swirskii with the additional food source Artemia during May

Greenhouse growers who are not getting adequate control of broad mites may want to consider a weekly release of A. swirskii. Contact your local biological control specialist or consultant to develop a strategy for preventative broad mite control.

For more information on the location of broad mites in the crop and about an intensive sampling program, read “Broad mites in ornamental crops – Part 2: Scouting and sampling.

The study referenced in this article is: Gobin, B., E. Pauwels, E. Mechant, and J. Audenaert. 2017. Integrated control of broad mites in ornamental plants under variable greenhouse conditions. IOBC-WPRS Bulletin Vol. 124: 125-130.

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Virginia Tech scientists rally international coalition to stop a pestilent ‘army’

July 13, 2017

A man’s hand holding two larvae next to a damaged corn plant.

A man's hand holding two worms next to a damaged corn plant.
A severely damaged corn plant shown next to two of the fall armyworms responsible for the damage. The pest usually feeds on leaves but during heavy infestations will also eat other parts of the plant, including kernels.

The fall armyworm – devastating to corn in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kenya, and elsewhere – is subject of an emergency workshop July 14 through 16 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to slow the pest’s advance in Africa and prevent its penetration into Southern Europe and Asia.

A pest native to both North and South America, the fall armyworm first landed in western Africa and reached eastern Africa a year later. The pest has the potential to destroy more than $3 billion in corn throughout Africa and trigger food shortages next year, scientists say.

Virginia Tech’s Muni Muniappan witnessed damage in April in Ethiopia, where he met with struggling farmers.

“The worm is voracious, and it must be controlled soon before the damage spreads,” said Muniappan, an entomologist and director of the Virginia Tech-led Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Integrated Pest Management.

A team of researchers from the lab is partnering with the International Center for Insect Physiology and Ecology in Nairobi, Kenya, to produce the workshop, which gathers stakeholders and experts from five countries (the United States, Ethiopia, Kenya, Niger, and Tanzania) to respond to the threat to the region’s food security.

The United States Agency for International Development, which funds the lab at Virginia Tech, is also sponsoring the workshop, where experts will share techniques with farmers to deploy against the pest.

On the continent less than two years, the fall armyworm has created a path of devastation. Its quick spread and heavy destruction make it difficult to control, leaving farmers few options but to handpick caterpillars off their plants.

The pest’s targets include 80 different plant species, some of which are valuable food crops. Many countries in East Africa experienced a sharp drought last year, which resulted in a humanitarian crisis from which millions of farmers in the region are only now recovering, according to the International Association for the Plant Protection Sciences.

The Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab team is coordinating research in East Africa seeking ways small-scale farmers can mitigate the pest’s impact. The lab is working to identify biological agents – such as a natural enemy like a wasp – to control the fall armyworm by destroying the pest’s larvae.

Scientists are studying traps made from burlap “gunny sacks” that employ such natural enemies. Other methods under study include establishing plants near rows of crops that can keep the pest contained.

The workshop should allow the Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab to fine-tune its research objectives, Muniappan said. He also hopes the pest, which can fly hundreds of miles once it transforms to become a moth, can be contained before it becomes widespread.

The Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab is a project of the Office of International Research, Education, and Development, part of Outreach and International Affairs.

Written by Dana Cruikshank and Stephanie Parker

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