BY KSRE | April 13, 2017

Kansas State University, Australian Researchers Join Forces to Combat Insect Pest

Photo courtesy of KSRE

MANHATTAN, Kan. – Researchers at Kansas State University and the University of Queensland in Australia have joined forces to attack and control a microscopic pest that can be devastating to the fruit, vegetable and flower industries.

Ralf Dietzgen, an associate professor in agriculture and food innovation at the University of Queensland, is spending three months at K-State as a Fulbright Senior Scholar in a quest to gather data and develop control measures for the small insect known as thrips.

Dietzgen is working directly with plant pathology professors Dorith Rotenberg and Anna Whitfield, who are co-directors of the Center of Excellence for Vector-Borne Plant Virus Disease Control.

Not known to grow larger than 3 millimeters, thrips are voracious eaters, using their asymmetrical mouths to puncture the surface of food crops, flowers and leaves and suck up their contents.

Of equal concern to researchers is that thrips are vectors, or carriers, of more than 20 viruses that cause plant disease, especially the tospoviruses, which also multiply in thrips. Given the right conditions, such as those found in greenhouses, thrips can reproduce exponentially and form large swarms that can transmit viruses to healthy plants.

“They’re very challenging to control, for several reasons,” Whitfield said. “For one, the insect is hard to kill. It is resistant to many insecticides. You can’t just spray crops and hope to control the spread of thrips and tospovirus.

“But secondly, the viruses that thrips can spread are very diverse and can change quickly. I call tospoviruses the influenza of the plant virus world. The predominant virus threat may change because they can switch genome segments and can develop resistance to control measures based on genetic changes. So the viruses have a lot of diversity themselves.”

Whitfield said Dietzgen’s lab in Australia is one of a few in the world that studies viruses that replicate in insects and plants.

“The thrips are a significant pest and have an impact on food security and then on top of that they transmit viruses which cause disease symptoms on the produce, like ring spots, which make them unmarketable,” Dietzgen said.

He noted that when thrips feed on flower buds, the developing fruits often become misshapen. “So you have peppers that are crooked and unmarketable,” Dietzgen said.

“We are studying thrips and the viruses they transmit at the molecular level with the goal of developing applied control strategies,” Whitfield said. “We think that better understanding the molecular mechanisms of the interaction is essential for developing sustainable control strategies for thrips and tospoviruses.”

Dietzgen recently saw first-hand the devastation that thrips-transmitted viruses can cause. One Queensland grower who provides fresh tomatoes for a large supermarket chain lost most of his crop one year due to a tospovirus transmitted by thrips. The lost crop was valued at more than $500,000.

“By the time the grower saw the disease effects, the thrips had moved on and the virus had been left behind,” Dietzgen said.

“The virus that Ralf is studying isn’t in the U.S. just yet, but thrips insects are able to move around easily so that they could appear hidden in a shipment of produce,” Whitfield said. “Any shipment of vegetables or plants that is traveling around the world could have similar pathogens and pests in it. As a control measure, we are trying to develop broad spectrum, durable resistance using different technologies.”

While Dietzgen’s stay at Kansas State University is relatively short, the researchers hope their new partnership will help lead to long-term solutions for agriculture.

“Both of our labs have generated large sets of genomic data that we’re starting to compare during my stay,” Dietzgen said. “By doing that, we hope to come up with potential targets for pest and disease control for longer term crop protection. We are asking, ‘What are the functions of these potential molecular targets and can we interfere with them?’”

Rotenberg and graduate student Derek Schneweis have compiled large sets of data outlining the messenger RNA molecules in thrips. Whitfield said their work may give new insight into how to control thrips in horticultural crops, as well as how to protect those crops from tospoviruses and other plant disease.

The prestigious U.S. Fulbright program is the largest educational scholarship of its kind, and was created after World War II by U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright. It operates between the U.S. and 155 countries.

More than 20 Fulbright Scholarships are awarded each year to Australian students, postdoctoral researchers, academics and professionals to pursue studies or conduct research in the United States.

In 2014, Kansas State University became the first U.S. educational partner of the Australian-American Fulbright Commission. Each year since, the university has hosted Fulbright Scholars from Australia to study and collaborate with Kansas State University researchers.

Kansas State also helped form the Oz to Oz program to encourage exchanges with faculty at Australian universities, often as seminar speakers.

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Deciphering plant immunity against parasites

April 13, 2017

Deciphering plant immunity against parasites
These researchers are from the Department of Molecular Phytomedicine at the University of Bonn. Credit: Molekulare Phytomedizin/Uni Bonn

Nematodes are a huge threat to agriculture since they parasitize important crops such as wheat, soybean, and banana; but plants can defend themselves. Researchers at Bonn University, together with collaborators from the Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich, identified a protein that allows plants to recognize a chemical signal from the worm and initiate immune responses against the invaders. This discovery will help to develop crop plants that feature enhanced protection against this type of parasites. The work is published in the current issue of PLoS Pathogens.


Plant-parasitic nematodes are microscopic worms that parasitize their to withdraw water and nutrients. The feeding process seriously damages the host plant. Nematode infection distorts root and shoot structure, compromises the plant´s ability to absorb nutrients from soil, and eventually reduces crop yield. Yearly losses exceed ten percent in important such as wheat, soybean, and banana. In addition to causing direct damage, nematode infection also provides an opportunity for other pathogens to invade and attack the host plants.

Until now, near to nothing was known about the general innate of plants against nematodes. A team of researchers at the University of Bonn, in cooperation with scientists from the Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich, has now identified a gene in thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana), called NILR1, that helps plants sense nematodes. “The NILR1 is the genetic code for a receptor protein that is localized to the surface of plant cells and is able to bind and recognize other molecules,” says Prof. Florian Grundler, chair at the Department of Molecular Phytomedicine at the University of Bonn. “NILR1 most probably recognizes a molecule from nematodes, upon which, it becomes activated and immune responses of plants are unleashed.”

NILR1 recognizes a broad spectrum of nematodes

Although a few receptors, so-called resistance genes, providing protection against specific types of plant-parasitic nematodes have already been identified, NILR1 recognizes rather a broader spectrum of nematodes. “The nice thing about NILR1 is that it seems to be conserved among various and that it provides protection against many nematode species,” says group leader Dr. Shahid Siddique. “The discovery of NILR1 also raises questions about the nematode derived molecule, whose recognition is thought to be integral to this process.” Now that an important receptor is discovered, the scientists are working to find the molecule which binds to NILR1 to switch on the immune responses. The two first authors, PhD students at the department share tasks in the project. Whereas Mary Wang´ombe focuses on the receptor protein and its function, Badou Mendy concentrates on isolating the signal molecule released by the nematodes.

New options for breeding resistant crop plants

The findings of the University Bonn Scientists open new perspectives in making crops more resistant against nematodes. They could already show that important crop plants such as tomato and sugar beet also possess a functional homologue of NILR1 – an excellent basis for further specific breeding. Once the nematode signal is characterized, a new generation of natural compounds will be available that is able to induce defense responses in thus paving the way for safe and sustainable control.

Explore further: Researchers discover a new link to fight billion-dollar threat to soybean production

More information: Mendy, B., Wang’ombe, M.W., Radakovic, Z., Holbein, J., Ilyas, M., Chopra, D., Holton, N., Zipfel, C., Grundler, F.M.W., and Siddique, S.: Arabidopsis leucine-rich repeat receptor-like kinase NILR1 is required for induction of innate immunity to parasitic nematodes, PLoS Pathogens, Internet: doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1006284

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2017-04-deciphering-immunity-parasites.html#jCp

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The Australian Government’s Department of Agriculture and Water Resources has released an Industry Advice Notice (IAN) advising that New Zealand has suspended imports of Australian rockmelons and honeydew melons that have been treated with dimethoate. This suspension is effective immediately.

Summary of changes and key points:

  • The New Zealand National Plant Protection Organisation has advised that, effective immediately, they will no longer be accepting consignments of rockmelons or honeydew melons that have been treated with dimethoate.
  • The suspension includes consignments that are currently in transit.
  • The department will not be issuing certification with EXDOC endorsement 1646 for rockmelons or EXDOC endorsement 3576 for honeydew melons.
  • Exports sourced from pest-free areas are still permitted.

source: foodprocessing.com.au

Publication date: 4/12/2017




The Plantwise Annual Report is an update on the programme, listing key highlights along with details on progress, lessons learned and next steps for each of the three programme components: Plant Health Systems Development, the Knowledge Bank and Monitoring & Evaluation. Highlights include (cumulative numbers): 9.8 million farmers have been reached directly and indirectly through […]

via Plantwise Annual Report 2016 released — The Plantwise Blog

MIT Technology Review, Vol 119, No. 6, (MIT News Section, page 6).

Spray That Stays

When farmers spray their fields with pesticides or orange growers spray water on their crops to prevent frost damage, only about 2 percent of the spray sticks to the plants. The rest of the droplets either bounce right back off the leaves or get blown away by the wind. All that waste costs money and, in the case of pesticide application, contributes to pollution of waterways and exposes farmers unnecessarily to hazardous chemicals. But a team of MIT researchers has found a way to fix that.

A clever combination of inexpensive additives allowed the researchers, led by associate professor of mechanical engineering Kripa Varanasi and grad student Maher Damak, to drastically cut down on the amount of liquid that bounces off, potentially making it possible to use just one-tenth as much pesticide or other spray as would otherwise be needed.

Previous attempts to reduce this droplet bounce rate have relied on additives such as surfactants, soaplike chemicals that reduce the surface tension of the droplets and cause them to spread more. But tests have shown that this yields only a small improvement; the speedy droplets bounce off while the surface tension is still changing, and the surfactants cause the spray to form smaller droplets that are more easily blown away.

The new approach uses two different kinds of polymer additives, each added to a separate portion of the spray. One gives its part of the solution a negative electric charge; the other causes a positive charge. When two of the oppositely charged droplets meet on a leaf, they form a hydrophilic (water-attracting) “defect” that sticks to the surface and makes other droplets more likely to adhere.

The project was developed in collaboration with the MIT Tata Center for Technology and Design, which aims to develop technologies that can benefit communities in India and throughout the developing world. Spraying of pesticides there is typically done manually with tanks carried on farmers’ backs, and since the cost of pesticides can be a significant part of a farmer’s budget, reducing the amount that’s wasted could improve the overall economics of small-scale farming. It could also reduce soil and water pollution and spare farmers excessive exposure to the spray chemicals. And for those spraying water, limiting the waste of often-limited freshwater resources can be significant.

“We can use normal sprayers, with two tanks at a time, and add one material to one tank and the oppositely charged material to the other,” Damak says. The farmer “would do everything as usual, just adding our solutions.”

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U.K.: Drones to tackle fruit fly spread on soft fruit farms – FreshFruitPortal.com

April 10 , 2017

Scientists at Scotland’s University of Aberdeen are using drone technology to create a new monitoring system for the fruit fly Drosophila suzukii. 

The drones will detect the pests much earlier than traditional methods by flying over “sticky traps” where the fruit fly can be identified from the air. Imaging capturing and processing systems will be developed to automatically differentiate fruit flies from other pests.

Also known as Spotted Wing Drosophila, the fruit fly has become a serious threat to soft fruit growers since arriving in the U.K. from Europe in 2012. Over the last few years it has affected several crops including strawberries, raspberries and grapes.

The three-year drone project aims to hone in on early detection, altering growers so they can take swift action to prevent crop damage, and improve upon the current monitoring methods which are time-consuming and costly.

Dr David Green, from the University of Aberdeen, explains how the Drosophila suzukii spreads rapidly and early detection is key to containing the devastating pest which has been found on farms in England’s key soft fruit growing regions in the south-east and as far north as Dundee, Scotland.

“One of the main challenges of our work will be developing a method that automatically identifies the presence of the fly among other pests. Our Dutch partners at the University of Wageningen are specialists in image processing, and our aim is to develop an image-capturing and processing system that can recognise the fly and carry out an automatic count in order to determine the density of the infestation.

“Ultimately, our goal is to develop a system which has real value for soft fruit growers – many of whom operate on tight margins – that can help protect their livelihoods.”

The project is funded by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), also involves Dr Johannes Fahrentrapp at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences in Switzerland and Dr Lammert Kooistra the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands.

Photo: http://www.shutterstock.com




Making Boots on the Ground More Effective: The Potential of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in Agricultural Development

Apr 7, 2017 by Kathryn Clifton Comments (0)

It’s no secret field time is expensive.

Development projects that aim to improve agricultural production often have 30,000 or more farmers. It’s no surprise that when you truly target the poor, it’s often hard to reach them. You might have to arrive in an all-terrain vehicle or walk over streams. It might take an hour or more if the farmer’s field is inaccessible by motor vehicle. Maybe you have to take a donkey, as the terrain is too steep to walk easily. These are common scenarios when truly targeting the most marginalized.

 Photo: Field monitors evaluating cashew farms in Benin. Credit: CRS and NetHope staff.

A single field agent can have 50 or more farmers in such hard-to-reach places. This agent trains others on various new agriculture management practices, manages demonstration plots, delivers improved varieties of plants and conducts regular monitoring among other activities. It makes sense that, to save time and money, field agents often meet with farmers in one location and conduct project activities as a group. This can also improve the adoption rate of new practices, but that is difficult to monitor without walking each famer’s field, no matter how remote or hard to reach.

Sometimes even that isn’t enough. Take Bossou Antoinette’s cashew farm that she sharecrops in Benin. Monitoring projects usually means asking farmers if they have tried the new management practices. But this practice only measures the farmer’s perception — not the reality in the farmers’ fields or the challenges faced there. Maybe in a corner of Bossou Antoinette’s farm there are invasive weeds that keep coming back, and she gave up on that corner because nothing seems to work permanently, and the work is difficult. Perhaps she may not mention that to a project monitor. When asked, she could simply answer, “Weeding is one of my biggest problems. Cutting is a lot of work.”

 Photo: Bossou Antoinette is a cashew farmer with six children. Credit: CRS and NetHope staff.

That’s what she told me about the farm she sharecrops. We count this as a success because she tried weeding, so that box is checked. This doesn’t mean that such monitoring is bad, it just means it is subject to such human error, and we can’t always go to every corner of every farm to confirm these reports.

Technology can help. Many studies show that using images or pictures provides a more accurate measure of field conditions than even highly trained agriculture practitioners on the ground. Until recently, such high resolution imagery came from satellites and was out of the reach of many development programs because of cost and cloud cover. Now, however, the low cost of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which can fly below clouds, means that development programs can increasingly access high-resolution imagery.

 Photo: UAV operator Jacob Petersen from Danoffice IT shows CRS staff Thierry Yabi (on his left) and cashew farmers how to fly a UAV. Credit: CRS and NetHope staff.

So far UAVs have been mainly used in emergencies. But last week CRS, in collaboration with NetHope, flew a UAV over cashew farms in central Benin. The images told us immediately that there was a need to thin out trees in some places. We could see where there is space available to plant more trees and how many could be planted, where there had been burning, and identify areas for follow-up due to invasive weeds or other problems. This is just from a first look at the image. Further analysis might tell us even more. With this information, the field agent can use his or her limited and expensive time to pinpoint areas that require an in-person visit.

 Photo: UAV preparing to land. Credit: CRS and NetHope staff.

This imagery can even tell us where about a corner of Bassou Antoinette’s farm that has a weeding problem, one that we did not see even though we walked the boundary of her plot.