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  1. Diane Saunders

    Research Fellow in Computational Biology at The Genome Analysis Centre and at John Innes Centre

wheat fungus

Yellow Rust spores can be seen bursting out of a wheat leaf from the inside, tearing their way through the epidermis. Kim Findlay/John Innes Centre, CC BY-NC-SA

One of the major diseases of wheat is caused by the yellow rust fungus, Puccinia striiformis, which threatens all major wheat-producing areas of the world. Ominously, we have discovered that the UK population of this pathogen is shifting dramatically, with the emergence of new strains which can overcome some of our most important wheat varieties.

We have developed a genetic technique that helps us characterise the pathogen, allowing farmers to make informed decisions about which wheat varieties to plant.

Wheat is a critical staple crop, providing 20% of the calories and 25% of the protein consumed globally by humankind. Despite modern agricultural practices, diseases of major food crops can cause pre-harvest yield losses of up to 15%.

In 2013, I joined forces with colleagues at the John Innes Centre and The Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich with the National Institute of Agricultural Botany in Cambridge to develop a new genomics-driven surveillance method to track the devastating yellow rust fungus and investigate the genetic basis of the new pathogen population.

Our new “field pathogenomics” method is a fast way to analyse fungal diseases from field samples and pinpoint the exact genotype. Current techniques rely on time-consuming phenotypic characterisation – checking the response of different plant varieties to infection by the pathogen – or costly in-lab processes. These methods can only sample a relatively small proportion of the fungal population.

With help from contributors to the UK Cereal Pathogen Virulence Survey, we collected wheat samples infected with the wheat yellow rust pathogen from 17 different counties across the UK. We then used our newly developed “field pathogenomics” method to characterise the genotypes of the samples. As each field sample consists of both the pathogen and its host plant, we were able to analyse both the pathogen and the susceptible host. In the future, this will provide a rapid means for confirming the presence of disease on wheat varieties that may have previously been resistant to disease.

wheat rust 2
Under siege: wheat is a major global crop, but threatened by fungal pathogens. Takkk, CC BY-SA

Invasive pathogens

We found that the wheat yellow rust pathogen population has undergone a major shift in recent years. Interestingly, the yellow rust population detected in the UK in 2013 was completely different at the genetic level to previous UK populations. This difference seems to represent a number of recent exotic introductions into the UK and could have serious implications for wheat production in the UK.

A subset of the new pathogen population was able to infect the same wheat varieties as a subset of the older UK pathogen population. Because the same varieties are infected, this new pathogen population would have been missed if analysis were based on traditional phenotypic characterisation alone. Spotting this new pathogen population is important, because even if it infects the same wheat varieties it could still have serious implications for disease incidence. The new pathogen population may have other important traits or infect other wheat varieties not included in our test set.

As we move forward, “field pathogenomics” could be applied to the surveillance of many pathogens besides wheat yellow rust pathogens, and could contribute to addressing human, animal and plant health issues. Such detailed knowledge of shifts in pathogen populations is important for both understanding and managing emerging diseases. For wheat yellow rust, our new technology could provide farmers with early indications of changes in the pathogen population, and have a positive impact on decisions regarding which varieties to plant in the field.

 

http://theconversation.com/a-deadly-mutating-wheat-fungus-is-spreading-heres-how-to-track-it-38135?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Latest+from+The+Conversation+for+3+March+2015+-+2493&utm_content=Latest+from+The+Conversation+for+3+March+2015+-+2493+CID_0a86dd80eaa3e4ff44b3dc0e67c85a6b&utm_source=campaign_monitor_uk&utm_term=A%20deadly%20mutating%20wheat%20fungus%20is%20spreading%20%20heres%20how%20to%20track%20it

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Press Release

Virginia Tech University

Friday, December 19, 2014

Blacksburg, VA, USA

University awarded $18 million to implement integrated pest management program in developing countries
Virginia Tech has won a new $18 million, five-year grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) for a research program that will work to raise the standard of living of people around the world through environmentally sound agricultural practices as part of Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative.
The Feed the Future Innovation Lab (formerly Collaborative Research Support Program) for Integrated Pest Management will conduct research and extension activities with farmers, counterpart universities, and host-country government research institutes to implement ecologically sustainable pest and disease control strategies. The predecessor programs to this new award have been led by Virginia Tech University for the past 21 years.
USAID recently announced that Virginia Tech would once again lead the program, a move that represents a vote of confidence in the work that has been ongoing since 1993. The new program will have a strong foundation in areas such as sustainable intensification, ecological service provision, ecological research, and empowerment of women farmers.
“We’ve been forming partnerships, conducting research, and getting to know farmers all over the world for the past two decades,” said Rangaswamy “Muni” Muniappan, who has led the Innovation Lab since 2006. “Our work has shown great results, and we look forward to continuing the fight against hunger.”
The competitively-awarded program will address new and emerging pest problems that plague farmers in the developing world, as well as model and manage the spread of invasive species. Program scientists will also be investigating ways to preserve biodiversity and offset the impacts of climate change on agricultural pests and diseases.
The new Innovation Lab, managed by Virginia Tech’s Office of International Research, Education, and Development, will commit its core resources to Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania in Africa and to Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, Nepal, and Vietnam in Asia.
The Asian arm of the program will include two main sub-programs: one focused on rice in Burma and Cambodia, and a second on horticultural crops in Cambodia, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Vietnam. The Nepal program will additionally address integrated pest management for grains and climate change impacts.
The projects in eastern Africa will focus on innovative crop protection research for increased production and preservation of high-priority Feed the Future staple crops like maize, wheat, and chickpea in Ethiopia; rice and maize in Tanzania; and high-value vegetables in Kenya and Tanzania. The program will also research and implement new strategies to control existing and emergent pest infestations in countries where farmers with limited resources are predicted to be heavily affected by climate variability.
“This program has been working on the ground with poor farmers, making a difference in their lives, and contributing to global food security,” said Guru Ghosh, vice president for Outreach and International Affairs at Virginia Tech. “We’re pleased to have the opportunity to learn from past challenges and build on our successes.”
As in all the previous phases of the program, U.S. researchers will strengthen and forge new partnerships with international colleagues and work directly with farmers. The core tenets will remain unchanged: The program will strive to reduce pesticide use, increase food production, improve health, and make a difference in the lives of poor people in developing countries all over the world.
“A small innovation in a farmer’s life can have a huge impact on their family and on succeeding generations,” said Muniappan.

About Feed the Future
Feed the Future (www.feedthe future.gov) is the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative. With a focus on smallholder farmers, particularly women, Feed the Future supports partner countries in developing their agriculture sectors to spur economic growth and trade that increase incomes and reduce hunger, poverty and undernutrition.

About USAID
USAID is the lead U.S. Government agency that works to end extreme global poverty and enable resilient, democratic societies to realize their potential.
About Virginia Tech
Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 225 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $496 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.

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What’s new at ICARDA Issue 19, September 2014

Bhoussini blog-3-19-sep-2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dr. Mustapha El Bouhssini, principle entomologist at ICARDA

ICARDA scientist wins prestigious international award An ICARDA scientist has been awarded a prestigious international award from the International Branch of the Entomological Society of America (ESA), the largest organization in the world that serves the professional and scientific needs of entomologists and individuals in related disciplines. Dr. Mustapha El Bouhssini, principle entomologist at ICARDA, has received the ‘Distinguished Scientist Award’ in recognition of his significant contributions to entomological research and a career devoted to sustainable agricultural research for development. He is a specialist in integrated pest management, applying cultural practices, biological control, botanical insecticides, and host plant resistance to boost the production of wheat, barley, chickpea, lentil, and fava bean.  This is the latest in a series of awards over the past decade. This year Dr. El Bouhssini received an Award of Merit for his research in Morocco on Hessian Fly resistance in wheat from the International Plant Resistance to Insects Working Group. He has also been selected to receive the 2014 Distinguished Alum from the Department of Entomology at Kansas State University (KSU) this Fall. These follow an International Plant Protection Award of Distinction from the International Association for Plant Protection Sciences (IAPPS) in 2007 and a CGIAR Award in 2006 that recognized Dr. Bouhssini’s efforts to apply integrated pest management techniques in the fight against Sunn Pest. In addition to his research at ICARDA, Dr. Bouhssini is an adjunct Associate Professor at KSU in the United States where he received both his Masters and PhD degrees. This position has helped initiate a number of important collaborative projects between KSU and ICARDA: one on Hessian Fly genetics, and the other on resistance in barley to Russian wheat aphid. During the course of his career, Dr. El Bouhssini has trained over 200 scientists and technicians from North Africa, and West and Central Area in the area of integrated pest management. Speaking of the Award, Dr. Mahmoud Solh, ICARDA’s Director General commented: “This prestigious recognition is due to Dr. El Bouhssini’s professional dedication, commitment and remarkable contributions to agricultural research for development. ICARDA is certainly very proud of this recognition.” – See more at: http://icarda.org/blog/%5Bnode%3ABlog%20type%5Dicarda-scientist-wins-prestigious-international-award#sthash.0yORHKVo.dpuf

 

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http://www.scidev.net/global/biodiversity/news/cropland-expansion-the-culprit-in-biodiversity-loss-says-study.html

 

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JAKARTA] Rapid cropland expansion is the main cause of biodiversity loss in tropical countries, a study by UNEP’s (the UN Environment Programme) World Conservation Monitoring Centre and the Cambridge Conservation Initiative has found.

The study, published in PLOS ONE last month (9 January), highlights maize and soybean as the most expansive crops and as the main drivers of biodiversity loss in tropical regions. Other crops that pose a major threat to habitats and wildlife are beans, cassava, cowpea, groundnut, millet, oil palm, rice, sorghum, sugarcane and wheat, the study says.

SPEED READ

  • Rapid expansion of crops such as maize and soybean is leading to biodiversity loss in tropical countries
  • Researchers say pace of expansion could derail progress towards meeting the Aichi Biodiversity Targets
  • A range of sustainability standards and policies are suggested as a way forward

It estimates that cropland in tropical countries expanded by 48,000 square kilometres per year from 1999 to 2008, with Brazil, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Nigeria and Sudan experiencing the greatest expansion.

Stuart H. M. Butchart, a UNEP researcher and one of the authors of the study, tells SciDev.Net: “Unsustainable agriculture is the most significant threat to biodiversity, but conservationists have not previously paid much attention to quantifying which particular crops have caused the greatest problems, nor which ones may do so in the future. This [study] starts to address this issue”.

One example of crop expansion cited in the study that has quickened the rate of species extinction is the Mega Rice Project in Kalimantan, Indonesia. Vast tracts of peat swamps were drained starting from the late 1990s in misguided attempts to turn them into rice plantations.

More than one million hectares, an area about a third the size of Belgium, have been converted for rice production, threatening the survival of Borneo’s last orangutans.

Similarly, peat and forest areas gave way to oil palm in Indonesia and Malaysia while soybean expansion have also replaced habitats of particularly high biodiversity value in the Brazilian Cerrado savanna. Expanding maize cultivation also threatens the dry forests of Madagascar.

Krystof Obidzinski, a scientist at the Centre for International Forestry Research, in Bogor, Indonesia, says that large-scale land acquisition is proceeding apace in countries like Indonesia — with economic benefits dominating the agenda while environmental impacts appear to be underestimated.

If the pace of expansion continues, the report warns, it could derail progress towards meeting the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, a set of 20, time-bound measurable targets aimed at halting global biodiversity loss by the middle of the century.

Butchart believes there should be a system in place so that consumers can make informed choices about the food they buy and how sustainably they have been produced. Such a system could reduce and minimise impacts of agriculture on biodiversity.

Customers can then discern which products are least damaging to the environment and producers have an incentive to minimise their negative impacts.

The study highlights the urgent need for more effective sustainability standards and policies addressing both production and consumption of commodities including robust land-use planning in agricultural frontiers, establishment of new protected areas or REDD+ projects in places agriculture has not yet reached, and reduction or elimination of incentives for land-demanding bioenergy feedstocks.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net’s South-East Asia & Pacific desk.

Link to full article in PLOS ONE

 

References

PLOS ONE doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0051759 (2013)

 

 

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Irinnews

http://www.irinnews.org/report/99877/mutant-wheat-fungus-alarms-food-experts?dm_i=1ANQ,2D17K,6LPWNX,8KL1K,1

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Photo: Jaspreet Kindra/IRINWheat under threat

JOHANNESBURG, 2 April 2014 (IRIN) – Outbreaks of a deadly fungal disease in wheat crops in Germany and Ethiopia in 2013 have had the scientific community buzzing over the threat posed to global food security.

Wheat stem rust, also known as wheat black rust, is often referred to as the “polio of agriculture”: The rapidly mutating fungal disease can travel thousands of kilometres and wipe out crops.

Wheat farmers and scientists at a recent summit hosted by the Mexico-based International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT ) have been examining outbreaks of different strains of wheat stem rust in the two countries to identify any similarities.

In Germany “the occurrence of stem rust was favoured by a period of unusually high temperatures… and an unusually late development of the wheat crop due to cold spring and early summer temperatures,” explained Kerstin Flath, senior scientist at Germany’s Federal Research Centre for Cultivated Plants at the Julius Kuehn-Institut. The outbreak occurred in June in central Germany, a mainly wheat producing area, and was the first in the country in several decades.

“A changing climate will ‘definitely’ favour this thermophilic fungus” Scientists noted that the rust came so late that even the fungicides sprayed earlier to prevent leaf rust epidemics proved ineffective.

Then in November 2013 the disease struck a popular variety of wheat in Ethiopia called digalu, used to make bread, said Bekele Abeyo, a senior scientist and wheat breeder at CIMMYT.

What was particularly disconcerting for the scientists was that digalu had been bred with inherent resistance to certain strains of stem rust and another wheat disease called “yellow rust” or “stripe”.

The fact that the fungus has been rapidly mutating has prompted scientists to study the two cases with a view to helping with the preparation of new wheat varieties.

David Hodson, a senior scientist with the Global Cereal Rust Monitoring Program at CIMMYT, says the analysis presented on the German outbreak showed “there were some clear specific differences between the races present in Germany compared to Ethiopia, although the races were similar and fitted into the same race group.”

In Ethiopia, he said, the season had also been favourable for rusts, with above-average and well distributed rainfall – conditions similar to those in 2010 when wheat crops there were affected by yellow rust.

However, said Hodson, “the key factor was the presence of a suitable host and the appearance of a race that was able to attack this host.”

Flath said the big question on the German outbreak was whether it “was a unique situation or if it will repeat this year” – particularly because they had had a rather mild winter, so the spores might have survived.

She reckons a changing climate will “definitely” favour this thermophilic fungus. In the last two years two new aggressive variants of the yellow rust-causing fungus have made huge inroads in central and northern Europe.

Defence

Fungicides are the first line of defence. A longer term solution is replacing the world’s entire wheat varieties with those that contain several minor rust-resistant genes, which are pooled together to counter the infection, giving them an edge over single rust-resistant genes in combating various mutated variants of the fungus. Digalu contains single rust-resistant genes.

There are 20 new stem-rust-resistant varieties of wheat available. But getting the new seeds to farmers has been a problem, mainly due to poor distribution networks and cost.

Industrialized countries have an edge in terms of resources, said Flath. But even developing countries, realizing that food security is at stake, are beginning to make massive investments, says Abeyo. For instance, after the outbreak in Ethiopia in 2010, the government invested US$3 in fungicides, which helped contain the fungus in 2013.

With global wheat supplies vulnerable to changing weather patterns, Abeyo says developing countries are realizing the need to become self-sufficient in grain.

“Countries are now making the investment in infrastructure and research to develop better varieties.” But they still have a long way to go. Better partnerships with the developed world in sharing information and skills to monitor and protect their crops are also proving to be effective, he added.

jk/cb

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YOURis.com

28 March 2014
by Jean-François Haït

Integrated pest management gains momentum due to European regulations on pesticides reduction. But the challenges are to integrate all alternative methods and to get farmers involved.

Read more: http://www.youris.com/Bioeconomy/Agriculture/A-Pest-Management-Toolbox-To-Reduce-Pesticide-Use.kl#ixzz2xbCVlyvg

Reducing the level of pesticide use in agriculture is a priority in Europe. A 2009 EU Directive states that the use of pesticide must be compatible with sustainable development. In particular, it encourages so-called integrated pest management (IPM) initiatives. IPM consists in combining available biological, genetic and agricultural methods to fight pests—such as weeds, bacteria, viruses, insects and fungi – rather than using extensive pesticide spraying.

Now the EU-funded PURE research project, due to be completed in 2015, aims at providing practical IPM solutions to reduce dependence on pesticides in selected major farming systems in Europe. “Our final objective is to provide farmers a toolbox for implementing IPM,” says Françoise Lescourret, director of research at the plants and cropping systems in horticulture laboratory at the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA), in Avignon, France. She is also the project coordinator.

The research focuses specifically on six cropping systems: wheat and maize as field vegetables, as well as pomefruits and grapevine as perennial crops, and tomato as greenhouse crop. Field tests are carried out in ten European countries. Project scientists are testing several solutions including, for example, the phasing of sowing in response to pest emergence, the use of plant species resistant or tolerant to biological aggressors, and the release of predator insect species in greenhouses.

Alongside these existing methods, the project team also evaluates innovative technological solutions, such as air samplers that can warn the arrival of airborne inoculum of pathogens, or mating disruption for insects involving the release of pheromones.

Then, IPM models taking into account experimental results are designed in the lab, and tested back in the field, in a virtuous circle. “Combining IPM solutions is challenging as all problems do not arise at the same time in farms,” Lescourret tells youris.com.

Assessing the cost of these solutions before and after implementation is also a key point of the project. “A good [integrated pest management] solution results in a positive environmental impact, a good cost-versus-benefit ratio, and preserves the social well-being of agriculture professionals,” she tells youris.com.

Economic aspects are indeed crucial. “In order to execute IPM, many more economic thresholds for pest, disease, and weed infestation are needed. Economic thresholds are the levels of the pest that will cause economic loss if the pest is not controlled. Controlling the pest below this level is wasteful, costly and a totally unjustified use of pesticides. In order to assess if a pest is above this threshold, farmers needs more sampling methods to measure the pest level. PURE can add to their toolbox” says Richard Meadow, research scientist at Bioforsk, the Norwegian Institute for Agricultural and Environmental Research, in Ås, Norway.

However, a toolbox is not enough, for Hans Muilerman, pesticides & alternatives officer with PAN Europe, the European subsidiary of pesticide action network federating environmental NGOs. “The main thing farmers need is good examples. If the ‘hero’ of the region adopts IPM, many will follow. Governments should start ‘IPM-hero’ programs and stimulate it. A toolbox is only needed when farmers feel like changing and this is the big hurdle for now,” he tells youris.com.

By the time the project reaches completion, however, the European network ENDURE for the promotion of sustainable agriculture will take over and spread the results among agricultural advisers to maximise the chance that project findings will be implemented.

 

 

Read more: http://www.youris.com/Bioeconomy/Agriculture/A-Pest-Management-Toolbox-To-Reduce-Pesticide-Use.kl#ixzz2xbCEsEgw

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