Weevils in caves, fish, and an ant that ‘babysits’ caterpillars among 139 new species classified by CSIRO

ABC Science


By environment reporter Nick Kilvert

Posted Mon 8 Aug 2022 at 3:00pmMonday 8 Aug 2022 at 3:00pm, updated Mon 8 Aug 2022 at 4:34pmMonday 8 Aug 2022 at 4:34pm

A strange pink organism on a leaf.
A gall caused by a newly classified species of gall wasp called Antron lovellae.(Supplied: CSIRO/Ron Russo)

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The CSIRO has released details of more than 136 new species of animals and three plants identified in the past year.

The new species include four fish, 117 insects, 11 jumping spiders, three plants, a frog, a millipede, an earthworm, and a marine trematode — a parasitic flatworm. 

The trematode was found inside a fish.

Close up of sucker mouth.
The oral sucker of Enenterum petrae under microscope. Baby Petra doesn’t know how lucky she is.(Supplied: Daniel Huston/Zootaxa)

Now called Enenterum petrae, it was named after the baby daughter of its identifier, Petra.

David Yeates, director of the CSIRO’s Australian National Insect Collection, said choosing a favourite out of the newly identified species was a bit like being asked to “choose a favourite child”.

However, he said one of the most interesting is a species of ant — now known as Anonychomyrma inclinata — which “babysits” the caterpillars from one of Australia’s  rarest butterflies, the bulloak jewel butterfly.

An ant.
The newly named ant Anonychomyrma inclinata is the ‘obligate attendant’ for the rare and beautiful bulloak jewel butterfly Hypochrysops piceatus.(Supplied: CSIRO/Jon Lewis)

“The ants carry the little caterpillars out from under the bark of the bulloak tree to feed on the soft tips of the leaves or needles at night; they carry them out and then back,” Dr Yeates said.

It’s a symbiotic relationship, where the ants protect the caterpillars from other ants, and get something in return, he said.

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“The ants feed on a sugary substance that the caterpillars produce from glands. The ants get this nice sugary secretion and the butterflies get protection.”

As well as it being a fascinating strategy, that knowledge helps to direct efforts to conserve the bulloak jewel butterfly.

“When we’re trying to manage that rare and beautiful butterfly, we know it only occurs where that ant occurs in that particular [species of] tree.”

A colourful butterfly.
The bulloak jewel butterfly has a symbiotic relationship with an ant that looks after its young.(Supplied: CSIRO/Michael Braby)

With only an estimated 25 per cent of Australian species having been formally identified, this work highlights the important role that the CSIRO’s National Research Collections perform, according to Dr Yeates.

Australian fauna — especially insects — is still poorly researched compared with fauna  in most other developed countries.

“That’s an important point for Australians to understand. Australia is still the land of discovery.

“We have a first world economy, good infrastructure, but we drive past new species all the time.

“For a biologist to come here from Europe or China for example, they think it’s the land of milk and honey, because there are so many new species for them to work on.”

A pink and yellow fish.
The purple-tip anthias is found in around 110 metres of water.(Supplied: CSIRO/Queensland Museum)

Other species in today’s haul include the purple-tip anthias, which has been found in waters between about 110 and 119 metres deep, off southeast Queensland.

Of the newly named fish species, three were types of anthias, and the fourth was a silverspot weedfish.

A mottled red fish.
The silverspot weedfish is found off southwest Western Australia in 55-100m depth.(Supplied: CSIRO)

Most new fish species that are being classified are small, non-commercially viable species that tend to live in deep water where they are rarely encountered.

While that appears to be the trend, Dr Yeates said a few years ago a large, deepwater cod species was discovered at a fish market.

A lineup of beetles.
Specimens of Undarobius howarthi and U. irvini, the two new species of weevils in the new genus Undarobius found in lava caves at Undara Volcanic National Park in north-eastern Queensland.(Supplied: CSIRO)

Of the newly discovered insects,  34 were beetles, including two new weevils found in the lava tubes at Undara Volcanic national park in Far North Queensland.

A weevil close up.
A new species of weevil discovered in the Undara lava tubes in Far North Queensland.(Supplied: CSIRO)

The two weevil species are the first cave-dwelling weevils to be described in Australia, according to the CSIRO.

The weevils have long, arachnid-like legs, are blind, and appear to have adapted to life in the darkness.

It’s possible that the two species, called Undarobius howarthi and U. irvini are relics from a period when the region was covered in rainforest.

A person stands in a cave with a torch.
Entomologists visiting the Bayliss Cave, a lava cave in Undara Volcanic National Park, to search for beetles.  (Supplied: CSIRO)

Not all the insects identified by CSIRO and their partners were from Australia; 39 were species of gall wasps from the Americas.

Gall wasps typically cause grotesque growths to form on plants, and can create problems if they become invasive pests, such as the native citrus gall wasp, which has spread across Australia.

How do scientists know if it is a new species?

One of the many challenges in identifying new species, is working out whether you in fact have a new animal, or just a funny looking, but known one.

Animals and plants can develop different physical properties, known as phenotypic expression, depending on pressures in their particular environment.

The Tasmanian blue gum for example, can reach 100 metres in height in Tasmania’s forests, but stunted versions of the same species just a few metres tall are found on the coast.

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Other species may change markedly depending on gender, and what stage of life they are at.

Which is why it’s important to have large collections such as the Australian National Research Collection.

Having lots of species in one place allows scientists to compare features to properly distinguish between their characteristics.

Even then, very specific expertise is required to work out where the animal or plants sits in its phylogenetic tree.

“What happens is that specimens that belong to new species accumulate in collections, and it’s a fair bit of effort to figure out if they’re new or not,” Dr Yeates said.

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“It can take quite a bit of time and effort, including looking at their genes and genomes to determine if they really are different.”

It’s likely that many species will become extinct in Australia, or have already become extinct, before we’ve had a chance to identify them.

Figuring out what’s what, means we can better understand where conservation efforts need to be targeted, according to Dr Yeates.

“We can start to get information on how to manage it, whether it’s declining, and what factors might impact its survival.”

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Eye Doctor’s Tool Offers New Look at Marvel of Moth Eyes


A tool commonly used in ophthalmology finds a new use in entomology: Observing how a moth’s eye adjusts to see in both light and dark environments. Moths such as the winter cutworm (Noctua pronuba, also known as the large yellow underwing), use a light-absorbing pigment that moves position to limit the light within the eye. The process takes approximately 30 minutes and only occurs in live specimens, making it difficult to observe. A new technique using optical coherence tomography, however, opens new doors for studying this process. (Image by Sam R via iNaturalistCC BY-NC 4.0)

By Ed Ricciuti

If you are into puns, you might call it an eye-opening innovation.

An optometrist in the United Kingdom has adapted technology for diagnosing human eye disease to instead scan how the eye of a living nocturnal moth regulates light input. To date, this light-regulation process has been visualized only in still images from dead specimens, but the new technique records in real time the moth eye adapting to changing light as it unfolds, dynamically.

An article by optometrist Simon Berry, MCOptom, published in June in the journal Environmental Entomology, describes the first use of optical coherence tomography (OCT) to view anatomical detail in the compound eye, common to insects, crustaceans, and other arthropods. Like medical ultrasound, OCT technology images biological tissue but does so by using light instead of sound. It is widely used in ophthalmology to obtain cross-sectional information about structures within the eye, making it an important diagnostic tool in the evaluation of human eye diseases. You may have peered into one if you have been examined for macular disease or if you are elderly; it is used routinely in many patients over 70.

Adapting to seeing in the dark is one of the evolutionary problems that nocturnal animals have had to overcome. Conversely, they can be challenged by the bright light of day. “During the night the light levels are low, so their eyes need to be very sensitive; but, they also need a way of adapting to environmental light conditions, and protecting those sensitive organs, if a bright light is encountered,” says Berry. “Human eyes have a pupil that changes size to regulate light input to the eye. Moths use a light-absorbing pigment that moves position to limit the light within the eye.”

In the moth’s eye, photopigment granules are stored between crystalline cone-shaped structures, or Semper cells, beneath the cornea. Behind that layer, the compound eye of nocturnal insects—defined as a “superposition” eye—has a transparent region called the clear zone. To decrease the brightness of light, the dark pigment is extruded from the cones into the clear zone. Like clouds blocking the sun, the pigment restricts the amount of light reaching the rhabdoms, photoreceptive structures in a layer at the back of the eye. In darkness, the pigment migrates away from the zone back into the cone layer. In effect, the concentration of pigment granules lessens to permit more light and increases to reduce it. (Image by Juliet Percival, originally published in Berry 2022, Environmental Entomology)

In the moth’s eye, photopigment granules are stored between crystalline cone-shaped structures, or Semper cells, beneath the cornea. Behind that layer, the compound eye of nocturnal insects—defined as a “superposition” eye—has a transparent region called the clear zone. To decrease the brightness of light, the dark pigment is extruded from the cones into the clear zone. Like clouds blocking the sun, the pigment restricts the amount of light reaching the rhabdoms, photoreceptive structures in a layer at the back of the eye. In darkness, the pigment migrates away from the zone back into the cone layer. In effect, the concentration of pigment granules lessens to permit more light and increases to reduce it.

The migration of pigment is difficult to record because it is a dynamic process, Berry says, and takes place only when a moth is alive. “By necessity, any microscopic examination of the eye requires dissection of a dead insect and will show a snap-shot of the adaptive state at that point in time,” Berry writes his paper. Thus, the fact that OCT is non-invasive is critical to the new method for observing this process.

Moths used in the study were trapped, scanned, and later released. During the experiment, the moths were adapted to darkness in a dark bag for at least an hour. The first scan was completed with the room in darkness to try and ensure the insect stayed dark adapted. A white LED light source was then turned, on and various scans were taken as the insect became light adapted.

Optical coherence tomography is well suited to observing the physiological adaptation process to light in moth eyes because the process is relatively slow, taking approximately 30 minutes to transition between fully dark-adapted to fully light-adapted. (Image originally published in Berry 2022, Environmental Entomology)

Berry found that when a moth is in a dark-adapted state, the clear zone is optically transparent, and light emitted by the OCT passes through it to the rhabdom layer, which serves like the retina of the human eye, resolving wavelengths of light so it can be processed to images by the brain. In a light-adapted state, pigment that has migrated into the clear zone changes its composition so it filters out light.

OCT is well suited to observing the physiological adaptation process to light because the process is relatively slow—circa 30 minutes—says Berry, and during this period the insect’s perception is not optimized for the environmental light levels. For example, if a light source causes an insect to light adapt and then that light source is taken away, it will take a period of time for it to become dark adapted and see effectively in low light levels.

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1. Optical coherence tomography scan: Noctua pronuba, “yellow underwing” moth eye

2. Optical coherence tomography scan: Plusia festucae, “gold spot” moth eye

Optometrist Simon Berry, MCOptom, reports in the journal Environmental Entomology on the use of optical coherence tomography for imaging the eye of a live moth as it adapts for vision in light or dark environments. In two videos here, images from the scans are sequenced to show the process over time. (Videos by Simon Berry, MCOptom)

From the OCT scans, it appears that the beginning of the pigment migration is not instantaneous but rather the pigment migration becomes visible after a short delay. “This may be because it takes time for the pigment to migrate and show in the scan,” says Berry. However, there could possibly be a biological reason why this may occur. The lag before pigment migration means that if the insect encounters a brief flash of bright light, it may be able to recover quickly because the pigment migration has not started. It may not lose its fully dark-adapted state immediately, as humans do, and so its vision not impeded. Conversely, the time lag in transition from light to dark adaption may disadvantage moths with light-adapted eyes for a time period if they move away from a light source into the dark.

“Further research is needed to determine whether the state of light adaption affects moth behavior,” says Berry. “I really do think that OCT can be a useful tool in entomology and could possibly help explain some of moth behaviour around light sources. It opens up another way of examining the compound eye, and because it is non-invasive it can be used to look at dynamic processes like light adaption in ways not previously possible.”

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The Use of Optical Coherence Tomography to Demonstrate Dark and Light Adaptation in a Live Moth

Environmental Entomology

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Study tracks plant pathogens in leafhoppers from natural areas

Date:August 2, 2022Source:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, News BureauSummary:Phytoplasmas are bacteria that can invade the vascular tissues of plants, causing many different crop diseases. While most studies of phytoplasmas begin by examining plants showing disease symptoms, a new analysis focuses on the tiny insects that carry the infectious bacteria from plant to plant. By extracting and testing DNA from archival leafhopper specimens collected in natural areas, the study identified new phytoplasma strains and found new associations between leafhoppers and phytoplasmas known to harm crop plants.Share:


Phytoplasmas are bacteria that can invade the vascular tissues of plants, causing many different crop diseases. While most studies of phytoplasmas begin by examining plants showing disease symptoms, a new analysis focuses on the tiny insects that carry the infectious bacteria from plant to plant. By extracting and testing DNA from archival leafhopper specimens collected in natural areas, the study identified new phytoplasma strains and found new associations between leafhoppers and phytoplasmas known to harm crop plants.

Reported in the journal Biology, the study is the first to look for phytoplasmas in insects from natural areas, said Illinois Natural History Survey postdoctoral researcher Valeria Trivellone, who led the research with INHS State Entomologist Christopher Dietrich. It also is the first to use a variety of molecular approaches to detect and identify phytoplasmas in leafhoppers.

“We compared traditional molecular techniques with next-generation sequencing approaches, and we found that the newer techniques outperformed the traditional ones,” Trivellone said. These methods will allow researchers to target more regions of the phytoplasma genomes to get a clearer picture of the different bacterial strains and how they damage plants, she said.

“One thing that is really novel about this study is that we’ve focused on the vectors of disease, on the leafhoppers, and not on the plants,” Dietrich said. The standard approach of looking for phytoplasmas in plants is much more labor-intensive, requiring that scientists extract the DNA from a plant that appears to be diseased and checking for phytoplasmas, he said.

“But even when you identify the phytoplasma, you don’t know what leafhopper or other vector transmitted it to the plant,” Dietrich said. “So researchers must go back out into the field to collect all potential insect vectors. Then they do transmission experiments, where they let the leafhoppers feed on an infected plant and then put them on an uninfected plant to see if it catches the disease.”

Because this research is laborious and slow, “we still don’t have a good idea of which insects are spreading most phytoplasmas between plants,” Dietrich said. “That really limits your ability to set up an effective management strategy.”

For the new study, the researchers turned to leafhopper specimens in the INHS insect collection. Dietrich had collected many of these insects over a period of 25 years as part of his work classifying their genetic relatedness and evolution. The researchers examined 407 leafhopper species collected around the world in areas less disturbed by human development. The specimens came from North and South America, Africa, Europe, Asia and Australia.

The team extracted total DNA from the specimens and processed each one, using both traditional and newer sequencing approaches. The latter are less costly and more informative than traditional methods, the researchers report. Of the insects sampled, 41 tested positive for phytoplasmas, and the researchers obtained usable phytoplasma sequence data from 23 leafhoppers. The phytoplasmas included those that cause a disease known as aster yellows, which inhibits photosynthesis and reduces the productivity of several different crop plants. These phytoplasmas were found in several new species of leafhoppers never before identified as vectors of the disease.

“These leafhoppers may transmit the phytoplasmas to wild plants in natural areas,” Trivellone said.

The study found phytoplasmas in regions of the world where such diseases had not been reported and identified several new strains of bacteria. It also found previously unreported associations between some phytoplasmas and species of leafhopper.

Scientists have no tools to target the bacteria in asymptomatic plants to prevent disease outbreaks, so controlling phytoplasmas involves the use of pesticides to kill the insect vectors.

“Because the insecticides are only partially specific to the target insects, they kill a variety of beneficial insects as well, which is not sustainable,” Trivellone said.

“We’re finding that there are lots of new phytoplasmas out there in nature that nobody’s ever seen before,” Dietrich said. “They don’t cause disease symptoms in the native plants they’ve associated with for maybe millions of years. They only start causing disease when they jump to a new host that has not been exposed to the phytoplasma before.”

The new findings parallel those seen in emerging infectious diseases of humans originating in wildlife, Dietrich said. “This is why we need to look more broadly across nature and see what’s out there.”

The National Science Foundation supports this research.

The INHS is a division of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

 Grahame Jackson

 Sydney NSW, Australia

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Pacific Pests, Pathogens & Weeds version 11

Dear Everyone

There is a new version of the Pacific Pests, Pathogens & Weeds out for mobile devices – phones and tablets. You can find it for free at the Glogle Play and Apple Stores. There are another 30 fact sheets and some amendments to others. 

If you want to see what’s new go to the About this App on the main page and it tells you.



GM seeds likely to be in the hands of Ghanaian farmers by next year, scientists say


JULY 29, 2022


Ghanaian scientists say genetically modified seeds will most likely be in the hands of farmers by the start of the next planting season.

The prediction was made during a recent AfS Live webinar featuring four public sector scientists who are using cutting edge tools  to improve food security and agricultural sustainability in Ghana.

The country’s cowpea productivity has been generally very low, said Dr. John Eleblu, head of cowpea and soybean projects at the West African Center for Crop Improvement (WACCI). It has been stagnate for years, with diseases, pests and drought affecting the yield of small holder farmers. This has made farmers over-reliant on chemicals, which are expensive, bad for their health and labor intensive, he noted.

“My research focuses on developing cowpea varieties that can tolerate these environmental stresses, using a combination of tools such as conventional breeding, mutagenesis, tissue culture and genetic modification,” Eleblu continued.  “This will ultimately contribute to yield improvement for smallholder farmers in Ghana.”


Another boost to production is expected from the pod borer-resistant (PBR) cowpea, which is genetically modified to resist  Maruca, an insect pest that causes over 80 percent yield loss. The insect-resistant cowpea will be the country’s first GM crop if the National Biosafety Authority green lights its environmental release, which means farmers can grow the seeds.

“When the PBR cowpea is commercialized, farmers will have options for sustainable farming and environmental biodiversity because of less use of chemicals,” said Dr. Daniel Ofosu, research scientist, Biotechnology and Nuclear Agriculture Research Institute (BNARI), Ghana. “Ultimately, this will give us new opportunities to transform our agriculture into more sustainable agriculture to ensure we have food, nutrition, and economic security.”

In addressing the issue of nutrition insecurity, Dr. Agyemang Danquah, head of the tomato genetics program at WACCI, spoke about his efforts to improve access to healthy and nutritious vegetables using innovative tools.

“Tomatoes are one of the widely consumed vegetables in Ghana, especially among smallholder families,” he said. “However, its production faces many challenges like bacterial wilt disease, which has caused a lot of farming families in the north to stop tomato cultivation. Similarly, there’s the issue of drought and extreme heat in these northern climates.” Due to these challenges, Ghana has relied heavily on importation from neighboring countries, leading to a 10-fold increase in costs,  Agyemang said.

“We are developing varieties that can adapt to these challenges, using a traditional breeding approach which involves screening several germ plasms for specific traits and then making new crosses to generate new varieties,” he explained. “But this takes a lot of years to develop, which is why tools like gene editing will help us address these issues within a shorter time frame.  We need new and improved tomato varieties to not only improve the income of small holder farmers, but also improve nutrition among consumers.”

Ofosu noted that while improved technology is good, the adoption of new crop varieties also requires a favorable policy environment. “Ghana has recognized the potentials of biotechnology and new plant breeding methods techniques to improve food and nutrition security in the country,” he said.  “So, what we’ve been doing is to build a system where a state institution can understand the technology better to enable them implement policies that would facilitate technology uptake.”

“The future of Ghana depends on these policies, especially the biosafety law,” said Dr. Mavis Owusuaa, molecular biotechnologist at the University of Energy and Natural Resources (UENR). “Once the door is open to GM crops, food insecurity will be a thing of the past. We will be able to feed the population and export more food, which will go a long way in improving the economic lives of Ghanaians.”

Owusuaa also noted that given the number of projects ongoing in Ghana, “it is obvious that we are ready to embrace the gene revolution.”  Scientists are also ready to support it, she said, and “the farmers are welcoming. All they want is a good product, and the scientists are ready to work. We only need the government’s support in terms of funding and policy to make Ghana a better place for everyone,” she concluded.

Study: How GMOs and crop gene editing can increase genetic diversity and help contain climate change

Helen CurrySarah Garland | PLOS Biology | August 3, 2022

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Credit: kwest via Shutterstock
Credit: kwest via Shutterstock

As climate change increasingly threatens agricultural production, expanding genetic diversity in crops is an important strategy for climate resilience in many agricultural contexts. In this Essay, we explore the potential of crop biotechnology to contribute to this diversification, especially in industrialized systems, by using historical perspectives to frame the current dialogue surrounding recent innovations in gene editing. We unearth comments about the possibility of enhancing crop diversity made by ambitious scientists in the early days of recombinant DNA and follow the implementation of this technology, which has not generated the diversification some anticipated.

We then turn to recent claims about the promise of gene editing tools with respect to this same goal. We encourage researchers and other stakeholders to engage in activities beyond the laboratory if they hope to see what is technologically possible translated into practice at this critical point in agricultural transformation.

A new hope: Gene editing for crop diversity

Leading plant scientists today praise innovative gene editing techniques as game-changing methods destined to fulfill aspirations for expanding crop genetic diversity through biotechnology. This fanfare sounds familiar, as scientists throughout the history of crop breeding have heralded various innovations in similar ways, most recently with the expectation that recombinant DNA would create paradigm-shifting possibilities. What, if anything, is different about the potential of gene editing technologies with respect to genetic diversity?

Gene editing …  offers opportunities to radically rethink the breeding process in ways that enhance genetic diversity by “restarting” crop domestication. Crop domestication relies upon a combination of spontaneously occurring genetic mutations and artificial selection by humans. In wild rice, for example, grains shatter in order to widely disperse the seed. During rice domestication, a mutation arose that caused non-shattering grains, a trait beneficial for early agricultural societies and therefore selected for cultivation. Rice wild relatives today carry beneficial traits like adaptation to diverse growth environments but their grains still shatter.

…Using biotechnology to expand crop genetic diversity will also require that researchers understand the many junctures in crop variety development and dissemination, especially those linked to seed commercialization, that work against such expansion. Addressing these obstacles will involve addressing issues as varied as farmer seed choice, seed certification processes, and international intellectual property regimes. It will require engaging with and developing further interdisciplinary and participatory research efforts to map infrastructural obstacles and to indicate actions that different stakeholders can take to facilitate genetic diversification.

This is an excerpt. Read the original post here

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Copying one key gene could help feed hundreds of millions of people worldwide facing nutritional deficiencies.


8.3.2022 2:30 PM

GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS are a hot-button issue. Many people are hesitant to eat plants or animals that have been enhanced with foreign genes, citing health and environmental concerns, the perceived “ick” factor, and occasionally conspiratorial thinking.

But GMO foods have the potential to feed the hundreds of millions of people worldwide who are undernourished. Given the benefits of tinkering with our meals’ genomes, a new study published in Science could offer a helpful compromise: a way to improve the yields of a crucial crop without adding genes from different organisms.

“Rice is one of the most important crops because it is a staple food for almost half of the world’s population,” Wenbin Zhou, a geneticist at the National Key Research and Development Program of China and co-author of the study, tells Inverse.

By duplicating one key gene, a team of researchers in China has successfully engineered a strain of agricultural rice that yields up to 40 percent more grain per plot compared to controls. If widely adopted, this breakthrough technique has the potential to feed magnitudes more people with fewer resources — but only if consumers and regulatory bodies are willing to give the transgenic dish a chance.

HERE’S THE BACKGROUND — Unfortunately, our beloved rice is a particularly resource-intensive crop. It requires lots of land and water to grow, and rice yields could decline about 40 percent by 2100 due to intensifying climate change. That’s why it’s quickly becoming necessary to increase yields of rice, along with other staple crops that are at risk.

Despite its growing utility, chowing down on genetically modified rice doesn’t appeal to everyone. In fact, it has sparked heated debate for decades. For example, you may have heard of golden rice, one of the first commercial GMO crops. It was developed in the 1990s to help supplement vitamin A intake in areas of the world where dietary sources of the nutrient are rare. The scientists behind golden rice inserted a gene found in daffodils, along with a gene from a type of soil bacterium, into the genome of a common domestic rice variety.

A 2022 protest against genetically modified foods, which also have the potential to feed millions wo...
Genetically modified crops produced by massive corporations like Monsanto have sparked protests around the world, like this May 2022 demonstration in La Paz, Bolivia.picture alliance/picture alliance/Getty Images

Many anti-GMO groups (and members of the general public) couldn’t stomach the idea of eating what they considered “Frankenfood.” Concerns ranged from the entirely reasonable, such as unforeseen environmental impacts and corporate sketchiness, to the outlandish, like government mind control.

The issue came to a boil in the mid-2010s when environmental group Greenpeace accused scientists conducting safety studies on the rice of using children as “guinea pigs.” In the wake of the scandal, the scientists involved were promptly fired by the Chinese government. Golden rice finally received FDA approval in 2018, but remains unapproved in many countries facing major food insecurity and vitamin A deficiency, including Bangladesh and India.

But breeding new types of rice isn’t very helpful, since it has only been shown to improve yield by about 1 percent each year. So in order to keep pace with climate change and global population growth, scientists like Zhou are turning to genetic engineering.

WHAT’S NEW — To create their new strain of super-rice, Zhou’s team first examined a pool of 118 rice genes associated with growth in the plants. “We mainly focused on the genes that [are] induced by or respond to both nitrogen and light simultaneously,” Zhou says.

The researchers pinpointed 13 genes that activated when the plants were grown in nitrogen-depleted soil and five that were associated with increased nitrogen uptake. Then they inserted an extra copy of one of these key nitrogen-boosting genes, known as OsDREB1C, into the plant’s genome. Finally, they sprouted these rice plants alongside unmodified rice and rice with the OsDREB1C gene suppressed.

A field of rice, a staple crop worldwide that is often genetically modified to increase yields.
Unlike golden rice and other more traditional genetically modified crops, this new variety does not incorporate genes from other organisms.ViewStock/View Stock/Getty Images

As it turned out, the plants with the additional copy of OsDREB1C produced grains that were both bigger in size and more abundant compared with their unmodified and knock-out counterparts. “We were surprised and excited about that,” says Zhou. What’s more, the rice plants had significantly more chloroplasts, allowing them to convert more sunlight into sugar during photosynthesis. However, when it comes to transgenic foods, it isn’t enough to simply engineer a heartier or healthier crop; you also have to convince people to eat it.

WHAT’S NEXT — The authors of the new study hope that their transgenic rice won’t cause quite such a commotion. For one thing, unlike golden rice, “what we introduced is the original gene from the rice’s own genome,” says Zhou. Instead of borrowing a gene from another organism, the researchers simply sent one of the plant’s growth-promoting genes into overdrive by duplicating it — this happens all the time in nature.

Plus, the new rice was engineered from a rice variety that is already commonly grown outside the lab, bred with flavor and texture in mind. This recent research effectively acts as a proof-of-concept, demonstrating that the specific gene edit works outside of laboratory rice strains. And the scientists suspect that same modification could have similar yield-boosting effects in other staple crops, including wheat, which forms the basis of about a third of the world’s diet.


‘Using insect biology against themselves’: New type of pesticide uses caterpillar pheromones to stop pests from mating

Gabe Barnard | St. Louis Post Dispatch | August 3, 2022

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They drop out of the sky like paratroopers. Credit: Missouri Pest Monitoring Network
They drop out of the sky like paratroopers. Credit: Missouri Pest Monitoring Network

The caterpillars are the larvae of the fall armyworm moth, a planetary crop invader. The annual toll of their attacks is at least $300 million for farmers in the U.S., and billions of dollars around the globe.

But now scientists from the University of Missouri are on the edge of a new frontier in pest control: They are filling fields with a chemical — not a pesticide — that replicates the pheromones of the moth, overwhelms its senses and stops it from mating, essentially using the insect’s own biology against it. The system could reshape pest control in the U.S., and be even more useful in countries where subsistence farming is common and access to genetically modified crops isn’t.

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Female moths have glands that emit the pheromone, a compound specific to the species. They pump out the pheromone into the air at night, and male moths use pheromone receptors in their antennae to sense the chemicals and find the female. Then they mate. Females can produce up to 2,000 eggs in their five-day lifespan.

The researchers’ experiment is designed to thwart the moths’ romance: Plastic pheromone strips are attached with a binder clip to wooden stakes in the ground. The strips release clouds of pheromones so intense the males can’t pinpoint a mate.

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Weed zapping

Do electrocution treatments have a place in weed control?


Researchers used a tractor attachment called The Weed Zapper™ to electrocute eight types of weeds common in soybean crops, including herbicide-resistant waterhemp. (Stock photo via Ivan Radic, Flickr/Creative Commons)

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Researchers from the University of Missouri recently conducted two field studies to explore the effectiveness of electricity in weed control. They used a tractor attachment called The Weed Zapper™ to electrocute eight types of weeds common in soybean crops, including herbicide-resistant waterhemp.

The first study showed that control was more effective in the later stages of weed growth and was most closely related to plant height and the moisture in the plant at the time of electrocution. Once the weeds had set seed, the treatments reduced viability by 54 to 80 percent across the weed species evaluated. A second study showed electrocution reduced late-season, herbicide-resistant waterhemp plants by 51 to 97 percent.

At some stages of growth, the soybean crops exhibited yield losses of 11 to 26 percent following electrocution treatments – though researchers say those results likely represent a worse-case scenario. In late-season treatments, for example, the clear height differential between waterhemp and the soybean canopy means the electrocution device can treat the weed without sustained contact with the crop.

The net takeaway: When used as part of an integrated control program, electrocution can eliminate many late-season, herbicide-resistant weed escapes in soybean crops and reduce the number and viability of weed seeds that return to the soil seedbank.

Want to know more? Read the article “The Impact of Electrocution Treatments on Weed Control and Weed Seed Viability in Soybean featured in the latest edition of the journal Weed Technology.

–Cambridge University Press
via EurekAlert!

Why Superior Performance Is Driving Increased Use of Biologicals

Brian D. SparksPosted by Brian Sparks| August 2, 2022

Pam Marrone In The Lab biological products

During the 2022 BiocontrolsSM USA Conference & Expo earlier this year, Pam Marrone, CEO of Chestnut Bio Advisors in Davis, CA, predicted that within 20 years, sales of biological products would equal those of more traditional synthetics. Asked if she would elaborate on her prediction, Marrone says there are many reasons, but it all gets down to the one thing growers care about: Performance.

As more growers adopt biologicals, they will learn these new products can outperform synthetics in the field, which Marrone says they absolutely will. Not only that, biologicals are superior for many reasons, and she says as that superiority becomes more evident, a sea change in crop protection is coming.

Marrone sat down recently for an interview with the host of the annual Biocontrols Conference, Meister Media Worldwide, in a conference room at Marrone Bio Innovations, which she founded in 2006, and where she remains on the board of directors. A true serial entrepreneur who founded lasting companies — her first, AgraQuest, was acquired by Bayer CropSciences — she’s now CEO of Chestnut Bio Advisors.

It may seem hard to grasp now, with biological products having just 5% of the market, how much agriculture will change in the coming two decades, Marrone says. A lot of it just has to do with the numbers. She notes the relative cost to develop a new synthetic product is now estimated at $300 million, so it’s no wonder there is just a new product or two approved each year. Compare that to the 20 to 30 promising new biological products being developed annually — thoroughly tested products, a far cry from some of the unproven biologicals of yesteryear — at a relative pittance compared to their chemical counterparts and in a greatly reduced time frame.

Read an extended conversation with Marrone in the which is part of Meister Media Worldwide’s recent Biological Crop Protection report, here.

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Brian Sparks is senior editor of Greenhouse Grower and editor of Greenhouse Grower Technology. See all author stories here.

Vacuum tackles spotted lanternfly infestations without spraying pesticides, Staten Island exterminator says

  • Published: Aug. 01, 2022, 6:30 a.m.
Spotted lanternfly vacuum
Mark Loffredo uses the Atrix high-efficiency particulate absorbing (HEPA) vacpack on a Staten Island yard. No protective clothing is required, since no pesticide is sprayed into the air, he said. (Courtesy of Mark Loffredo)




STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Amid the struggle to control Staten Island’s growing spotted lanternfly infestation without damaging gardens and knocking out critical pollinators, one Staten Island exterminator has turned to an environmentally-safe vacuum designed for sensitive indoor environments.

The Atrix high-efficiency particulate absorbing (HEPA) vacpack, which contains a HEPA filter and a nature-friendly pesticide, has been in the pest-control arsenal for years, said Mark Loffredo, president of Post Exterminating, but it previously has only been used inside nursing homes and hospitals, where pesticides would be harmful and impractical.

“This is the safest and cleanest option, and it works,’’ said Loffredo, explaining that vacuum chops the insects up while a nature-friendly pesticide remains inside the filter and is never released into the environment.


While Staten Islanders won’t see spotted lanternflies hopping and flying around their yards until later this summer or fall, many are reporting sightings of lanternfly instars, or newly hatched nymphs, recently emerged from egg masses. They’re found on trees and other outdoor structures, and environmental experts urge residents to destroy them before they become full-grown.

The destructive insects, which won’t take on their familiar red coloration and start flying for a few more weeks, feed on more than 70 plant species, including tree-of-heaven. Not only are they a nuisance, they’re also a threat to plants and crops that are critical to New York’s agricultural economy, such as grapevines, hops, apple trees and maple trees, the state Department of Agriculture warns.

Loffredo initially tried the vacuum, much more powerful than a household vacuum, on his own perennial border garden, and was thrilled with the results. A treatment every few weeks will easily control the population in an average-size yard on Staten Island, he said. “If we get in there a couple of times in the course of a month, we can knock them out,’’ he said.


Traditional yard pesticides are harmful to critical pollinators, including butterflies, wasps, bees and hornets, said Cliff Hagen, president of Protectors of Pine Oak Woods, a longtime Staten Island non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the Island’s parkland and open spaces.

“Random spraying of these chemicals, unfortunately, kills everything it touches,’’ Hagen said. “No bug is immune. But spiders, ants, bees, they sort of clean up the whole yard for us. The pollination the bees provide is invaluable.’’

Moths, too, and even hummingbirds, are threatened by pesticide spraying, Hagen said, as well as the flowers that rely on them for pollination.

Spotted lanternflies were widely blamed for damaged trees across the South and West shores of Staten Island last fall, and are expected to be active again this year.


The nymphs currently invading gardens are small (1/8 inch) and can be hard to find, but with each molt they roughly double in size, according to the Penn State Extension, an environmental educational organization.

They emerge from egg masses, which resemble brown splotches, and are commonly found on tree trunks.

Refuses to spray

Frequently asked by potential customers to do “broadcast spraying,’’ of pesticides to control lanternflies, Loffredo,who has worked as an adjunct college professor teaching a class on pesticides and the environment, says he always refuses.

In the vacuum’s HEPA filter, pyrethrum dust, which is made from chrysanthemums, is fatal to the insects. The dust remains inside the filter and is as safe and non-toxic to humans as you’re going to get, Loffredo said.


That makes the treatment even easier than spraying, said Loffredo, because the protective equipment required by professionals when applying pesticides is not needed.

Hagen said he loves the idea of the vacuum.

“I’m excited about the possibility that we may be able to handle the spotted lanternfly in an expeditious way that is less environmentally damaging,’’ he said, noting the Island has seen a significant decline in pollinators — especially butterflies — over the past 10 years.

Last year, with funding from Con Edison, the Protectors created the first-ever Staten Island butterfly checklist, discovering that the population on the Island is shrinking. Fifty years ago, 110 species of butterflies were recorded on the Island, Hagen said. Today, there’s just over 50.

Though no studies confirm it, Hagen blames the frequent use of spray chemical pesticides.


“For the sake of our children, we’re supposed to be stewards of the natural world,’’ he said. “We’re failing. That’s a decision each person is making — that they’re going to spray their yards, regardless of the bees and the butterflies.’’

Since about 50% of Loffredo’s business is comprised of healthcare facilities, the HEPA vaxpack is something he uses often. It was a logical choice to try, he said.

“It does suck up some of the leaves, but it gets all the bugs,’’ he said. “I’m using it on the whole yard.”

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