Archive for the ‘Crop protection’ Category

Contribute to CABI’s new Plant Health Cases

Real-life examples of plant health in practice. 

About Plant Health Cases

Fresh green soy plants on the field in spring. Rows of young soybean plants . High quality photo

CABI, together with Editors in Chief Lone Buchwaldt, David B. Collinge, and Boyd A. Mori is embarking on a new type of online publication called Plant Health Cases.

Plant Health Cases will be a curated, peer-reviewed collection of real-life examples of plant health in practice. This will be an invaluable resource for students, lecturers, researchers, and research-led practitioners. We will be developing cases in all areas relevant to plant health, including:

  • plant diseases
  • plants pests
  • weeds
  • environmental factors
  • agronomic practices
  • diagnosis, prevention, monitoring and control
  • international trade and travel

What is a Case Study?

A Plant Health Case is a relatively short publication with a well-defined example of research in plant health, e.g. a study which results in reduced impact from a disease or pest problem. Cases should be between 3000 and 5000 words long, and can include photos, figures and tables. They should be written in an engaging style that is both science-based and accessible using a limited number of references. Importantly, each case should suggest points for discussion to broaden the reader’s horizon, inspire critical thinking and lead to interactions in the classroom or field.

Interested in Contributing to Plant Health Cases?

We are currently looking for contributions of case studies, and we welcome your ideas! You may have existing case study material ready prepared for use in teaching, or a good example of research in plant health which could be easily adapted to our template. For further information and guidance on how to submit your idea for a case study please see here: https://www.cabi.org/products-and-services/plant-health-cases/

Your submission will be peer-reviewed, and a DOI assigned at the time of publication similar to your other scientific publications. The corresponding author will receive £100 upon acceptance of the final case study. 

Publication Plan

We’re aiming to launch Plant Health Cases in mid-2023. Our case studies will offer practical, real-life examples in one easily searchable platform. All users will be able to search, browse and read summaries of case studies. Full text access will be available via individual or institutional subscription, or by purchasing a single case study.

Further Information

Please get in touch with Rebecca Stubbs, Commissioning Editor, CABI


About CABI

CABI is a not-for-profit, scientific research, international development and publishing organisation. Unlike other publishers, we use our surpluses to support scientific and rural development projects that help improve the lives of the world’s poorest people, which means that by publishing with us, you are helping to improve the lives of some of the world’s poorest people. Please visit our website at www.cabi.org

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Flavonoids from sorghum plants kill fall armyworm pest on corn, may protect crop

by Jeff Mulhollem, Pennsylvania State University

corn plant
Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

Flavonoids produced by sorghum leaves have shown promising results in combating fall armyworm larvae. When sprayed on the leaves of corn, sorghum flavonoids stunt the growth of fall armyworm and often kill the pest, Penn State researchers report in a new study.

The results of the research are important, according to Surinder Chopra, professor of maize genetics, because fall armyworm is an invasive insect pest that now damages corn crops around the world, significantly limiting yields. He suggests that flavonoids could be used as the basis for a nontoxic pest-management strategy to protect corn.

Plant flavonoids are natural compounds that often are seen as pigments in some flowers, vegetables and fruits. Flavonoids normally are considered nonessential byproducts of a plant’s primary metabolism, which produces sugars and other metabolites that work together to produce seed yield.

“When you survey the leaves and other parts of commercially grown corn, you do not see production of these flavonoids anymore,” he said. “These compounds were naturally present at one point until we started breeding against them. Actually, we did not breed against them so much as we just lost them trying to develop higher-yielding varieties.”

For two decades, Chopra’s research group in the College of Agricultural Sciences has studied mutant lines of corn that overproduce the flavonoids and has developed new lines that combine flavonoid overproduction with other desirable traits. And his lab has taken the gene that produces a precursor compound of flavonoids in sorghum and inserted this gene into corn to make more resilient plants that can discourage feeding by fall armyworms and possibly other pests.

Fall armyworm caterpillars are so destructive because they often feed on the younger corn leaves inside the whorl where they grow, Chopra explained. They stay inside the whorl gorging, and when the whorl opens, the young leaves already are destroyed.

In the study, the researchers demonstrated in a three-part experiment that sorghum and corn flavonoids affect survival of fall armyworm larvae. Their findings, recently published in the Journal of Pest Science, revealed that fall armyworm larvae reared in the lab on an artificial diet supplemented with sorghum flavonoids showed significant mortality and decreased larvae body weight.

To compare the levels of fall armyworm survival and feeding damage, the researchers developed breeding lines and grew four related lines of corn at Penn State’s Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center—two genetically modified lines to produce flavonoids, and two not producing flavonoids.

“The feeding assays showed significantly high mortality of larvae that were fed on flavonoid-producer lines compared to nonflavonoid lines or the wild types,” Chopra said. “And significantly less damage was done to corn plants producing flavonoids than to flavonoid-free corn.”

The researchers also extracted leaf flavonoids from certain sorghum lines and sprayed them on leaves of susceptible corn lines. The flavonoid extract effectively reduced the growth and increased the mortality of fall armyworm larvae, making the susceptible lines resistant to fall armyworm larval feeding.

Penn State entomologist Gary Felton, who has been collaborating on this research with Chopra, noted that when fall armyworms ingest flavonoids, their intestinal tract is degraded.

“The membrane that protects the caterpillar’s gut was severely damaged in larvae fed on leaves of flavonoid-producer corn lines, compared to wild types,” he said. “The effectiveness of the flavonoids as feeding deterrents demonstrates the eco-friendly potential for the management of fall armyworm larvae.”

Explore further

Insect-deterring sorghum compounds may be eco-friendly pesticide

More information: Debamalya Chatterjee et al, Sorghum and maize flavonoids are detrimental to growth and survival of fall armyworm Spodoptera frugiperda, Journal of Pest Science (2022). DOI: 10.1007/s10340-022-01535-y

Provided by Pennsylvania State University 

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A New Green Revolution Is in the Offing

Thanks to some amazing recent crop biotech breakthroughs

RONALD BAILEY | 8.10.2022 5:00 PM

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man stands in wheat field facing away from camera with outstretched arms

(Noam Armonn | Dreamstime.com)

A recent spate of crop biotech breakthroughs presage a New Green Revolution that will boost crop production, shrink agriculture’s environmental footprint, help us weather future climate change, and provide better nutrition for the world’s growing population.

The first Green Revolution was generated through the crop breeding successes pioneered by agronomist Norman Borlaug back in the 1960s. The high-yielding dwarf wheat varieties bred by Borlaug and his team more than doubled grain yields. The Green Revolution averted the global famines confidently predicted for the 1970s by population doomsters like Stanford entomologist Paul Ehrlich. Other crop breeders using Borlaug’s insights boosted yields for other staple grains. Since 1961, global cereal production has increased 400 percent while the world population grew by 260 percent. Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his accomplishments. Of course, the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are currently roiling grain and fertilizer supplies.

Borlaug needed 20 years of painstaking crossbreeding to develop his high-yield and disease-resistant wheat varieties. Today, crop breeders are taking advantage of the tools of modern biotechnology that can dramatically increase the rate at which yields increase and drought- and disease-resistance can be imbued in crops.

The Green Revolution’s crops required increased fertilizer applications to achieve their higher yields. However, fertilizers have some ecologically deleterious side effects. For example, the surface runoff of nitrogen and other fertilizers not absorbed by crops spurs the growth of harmful alga in rivers, lakes, and coastal areas. In addition, excess nitrogen fertilizer gets broken down by soil bacteria such that there are rising atmospheric concentrations of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide, which, pound for pound, has 300 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.

The good news is that in the last month, two teams of modern plant breeders have made breakthroughs that will dramatically cut the amount of nitrogen fertilizers crops need for grain production. In July, Chinese researchers reported the development of “supercharged” rice and wheat crops, which they achieved by doubling the expression of a regulatory gene that increases nitrogen uptake by four- to fivefold and enhances photosynthesis. In field trials, the yields of the modified rice were 40 to 70 percent higher than those of the conventional varieties. One upshot is that farmers can grow more food on less land using fewer costly inputs.

Some crops like soybeans and alfalfa get most of the nitrogen fertilizer they need through their symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing soil bacteria. Soybeans supply the bacteria living on their roots with sugars, and the bacteria in turn take nitrogen from the air and turn it into nitrate and ammonia fertilizers for the plants. However, nitrogen-fixing bacteria do not colonize the roots of cereal crops.

A team of researchers associated with the University of California Davis reported in July their success in gene editing rice varieties to make their roots hospitable to nitrogen-fixing bacteria. As a result, when grown under conditions of limited soil nitrogen, the yields of the gene-edited varieties were 20 to 35 percent higher than those of the conventional varieties. The researchers believe their gene-editing techniques can be applied to other cereal crops.

This new biotech-enabled Green Revolution promises a future in which more food from higher yields grown using less fertilizer means more farmland restored to nature, less water pollution, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

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Crop protection: Biohacking against fungal attacks

by Karlsruhe Institute of Technology

Crop protection: biohacking against fungal attacks
The DialogProTec research project developed sophisticated technologies for sustainable plant protection. Credit: DialogProTec, KIT

Harmful fungi cause enormous agricultural losses. Conventional techniques for combating them involve the use of poisonous fungicides. Researchers at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), working with partners from Germany, France, and Switzerland on the DialogProTec project, have developed environmentally safe alternatives that trick the pathogens’ chemical communication with plants. Now that the research has been completed, the new technology is ready for use.

First, the leaves turn brown, then the entire grapevine dies. A fungal infection called esca is a threat to wine production in Europe and causes millions in damage to winemakers every year. “This disease has been known in Southern Europe since the Middle Ages, but it never played a major role,” says Dr. Alexandra Wolf from KIT’s Botanical Institute, which coordinates the DialogProTec project. “But because of climate change, the fungus is now encountering many plants weakened by climate stress.”

Conventional plant protection usually involves the use of poisonous fungicides to fight fungal diseases like esca. In DialogProTec, the researchers have developed a completely new approach that works without any environmentally hazardous toxins. “In nature, organisms interact using chemical signals. We’ve been able to identify some of the signals between the host and the pathogen, and to manipulate them,” says Wolf, who adds that this “biohack” is precise and effective and has a minimal ecological footprint.

To develop the new methods, the KIT-led project founded an interdisciplinary research network including specialists in botany, fungal genetics, microsystem technology, organic chemistry, and agricultural sciences. The network used about 20,000 fungus strains from the collection at the Institute of Biotechnology and Drug Research (IBFW) in Kaiserslautern and about 6,000 plant species from KIT.

Tracking down signal substances with high tech

The researchers didn’t need to work with entire plants and fungi to identify and exploit the right signals. Instead, they worked with individual cells. A microfluidics chip jointly developed with KIT’s Institute of Microstructure Technology served as the basis for a miniature ecosystem. “We placed plant and fungi cells on chips a few square centimeters in size so that they can’t come into physical contact but can interact chemically via a microfluidic current,” says Christian Metzger from the Botanical Institute at KIT.

“To make this interaction visible, we equipped the genetic material in the plant cells with a gene switch and a fluorescence gene. Whenever a chemical signal activates the immune system, we can measure the green fluorescence.” The gene switches are from wild grapevines, in which the researchers had previously detected an especially active immune response.

Plant vaccination ready to test

During their investigations, the researchers first decoded the chemical communication between fungus and plant that accompanies a fungal attack. One of the things they identified was signal substances that the fungus uses to suppress the plant’s immune response. “They’re part of a chemical interaction shaped by a long evolutionary process and are produced as soon as the fungus detects specific stress signals from the plant,” explains Professor Peter Nick, who heads the project and the Botanical Institute. The team then identified molecules that could be used to reactivate the immune response. “When we use them for plant protection, the plants can often ward off the fungus. You can think of it as a vaccination for plants,” says Nick.

DialogProTec’s innovative technology is already on its way into practical use and is soon to be tested in the field. In addition to their work on an alternative to fungicides, the project team has also developed new approaches to promoting plant growth or fighting weeds, where signal substances could also replace poisonous herbicides in the future.

Explore further

Plant protection: Communication instead of poison

Provided by Karlsruhe Institute of Technology 

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Potato blight advice: Remove badly affected areas of crop


Potato blight advice: Remove badly affected areas of crop

In cases of potato crops being badly impacted with blight, growers may have no choice but to totally remove infected areas of fields.

According to Teagasc potato specialist, Dr. Stephen Kildea, fungicides may take out most of the infection for now. But residual levels of infection will only act to ensure the fast re-emergence of the disease at some future date.

“Product choice is also critically important from a blight control point of view in this type of scenario,” he explained.

“Adding cymoxinal to a blight control spray mix will work well under these conditions. It will act to give a very short lived protection. But it does allow things to be dried up.

“Crops impacted by blight must be maintained within a very tight spraying interval. And it’s very much a case of treating the whole crop, not just the patch where the initial problem had been identified.”

Potato blight control

But rather than have to physically treat outbreaks of blight, the plan from the very start should be to manage crops in ways that prevent the disease from getting a foot hold in the first place.

Commenting on the range of fungicide products available to control blight in potatoes, Kildea confirmed issues that had arisen around the efficacy of fluazinam.

This is an active ingredient, which is contained in a number of commercially available products. 

“In the trials that we have carried out over the last two years, plots sprayed with fluazinam did not receive the level of blight protection that we would have expected, Kildea said.

“The fungicide has been on the market for the past two decades. And over the years it has worked very well, particularly in end of season spray mixes.”

According to Kildea a strain of blight, 37A2, has emerged – initially in Europe, but now in Ireland. It seems to have reduced sensitivity to fluazinam.

“We picked the problem up in 2019. Samples were sent in to us from farmers.

“Trials carried out at Oak Park in 2020 and 2021 confirmed the issue, which meant that we lost a significant amount of disease control coming from it.

“The consequences of this are important. Fluazinam was a very popular blight fungicide with growers.

“Critically, it was used by commercial growers at end of season. We have lost this now. It is just too risky to use as it gave blight control across both foliage and growing tubers.”

Also Read: Enough fertiliser stocks until end of September – Dunphy


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Micropep Wants to Protect Crops With Micropeptide-Based Fungicides

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Micropep Wants to Protect Crops With Micropeptide-Based FungicidesFrench company Micropep is on a mission to change the face of the agriculture biotech landscape offering innovative solutions for crop protection. (Credit: Micropep)

by Chris McCullough

July 20, 20227 minsUpdated on July 20, 2022

French company Micropep is on a mission to change the face of the agriculture biotech landscape offering innovative solutions for crop protection. The company has recently raised €8.75 million to develop a micropeptide-based biofungicide that could replace chemical pesticides.

Micropep was founded in 2016 as a spin-off of LRSV, the Plant Research Laboratory at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and Toulouse University.  

LRSV is a center of excellence in agritech. It has helped raise close to US$25m to date from prominent European and US investors to accomplish its mission. 

Based in Toulouse (South of France), Micropep currently employs 30 people. After a round of financing of 8.5 million euros in 2021, the biotech company has recently announced the completion of fundraising of 8.75 million euros. 

This plant biotechnology company is now developing new biological crop protection solutions using micropeptides. Their idea is to offer an ecological alternative to chemical pesticides and fertilizers widely used in agriculture.

What are Micropeptides?

Micropeptides are short natural peptide molecules that target and regulate plant genes and proteins. They are generally made of 10 to 20 amino acids. 

They only target the plant’s RNA and not their DNA so they do not genetically modify them. They also naturally and rapidly disintegrate into soils without causing any harm to the environment and to people.

Micropeptides are short natural peptide molecules that target and regulate plant genes and proteins (Micropep)

Micropep’s solution involves the pulverization of micropeptides on the plants. This will improve the properties of the plants, without ever altering their DNA.

We spoke with Micropep’s CEO Thomas Laurent. He outlined the main production and aims of the company.

“Micropep is revolutionizing crop protection with its unique and proprietary micropeptide technology. The company’s first micropeptide-based products target major row crop and specialty crops markets for biofungicide and bioherbicides in both Europe and Americas.” 

Finding peptides with activity on plant development is not something new. But so far none of them have been turned into efficient and affordable products, the CEO says: 

“Micropep is the only company in the world that can rapidly identify and develop functional micropeptide products for agriculture.”

How to Select Micropeptides?

Micropep’s scientists use artificial intelligence to identify and prioritize potential RNA or protein targets. (Credit: Micropep)

First, Micropep’s scientists use artificial intelligence to identify and prioritize potential RNA or protein targets. Then, they are able to select the best natural micropeptide sequences regulating these targets. 

After that, micropeptides candidates are tested in screening pipelines. This will allow the scientists to pick the most efficient ones. The best leads stand out thanks to their specific characteristics such as their stability, penetrability and producibility properties. Once they have been selected in the lab, they must be validated on the field, in real conditions. 

What are the Advantages of Micropeptides?

There are a number of advantages for using micropeptides over conventional pesticides explained Mr. Laurent:

Micropep’s solution involves the pulverization of micropeptides on the plants. (Micropep)
This will improve the properties of the plants, without ever altering their DNA (Micropep)

“As of today, the crop protection market has been relying on mostly two main types of technologies: conventional pesticides (or agrochemicals) and microbe-based biologicals. Conventional pesticides usually have strong efficacy levels but are now facing resistance problems like antibiotics as well as growing environmental and toxicity concerns. 

Mr. Laurent believes this is why farmers are more and more actively looking for alternatives.

“Biological products based on living microorganisms have been facing efficacy and cost challenges, mostly because of their living nature. This has partly hindered their adoption in mass by farmers.”

Micropep is now leading the way on the third category of products based on natural and biodegradable molecules such as peptides and proteins. 

“Our micropeptides combine the efficacy potential of chemicals, the precision of genetics and the safety profile of biologicals. They could offer strong protection against resistant pathogens or weed species and at the same time help farmers reduce their environmental impact.” 



First Candidates in Development

The company’s first micropeptide candidates are now coming out of research to enter development and regulatory work, Mr. Laurent said:

“We are working on solutions that could be used by farmers across the globe. Our first products will be directed towards US, Latam and European farmers. They will focus on row crops such as soybean and cereals and specialty crops like potato or grapes.”

The company’s first micropeptide candidates are now coming out of research to enter development and regulatory work (Micropep)
The company expects to launch its first product in 2025 in the US. (Micropep)

He added that the company is also building a network of leading international partners for micropeptide production, commercialization and trials.

Plant protection products, even the ones from biological nature such as micropeptides, need to be approved by the regulators before being commercialized. 

Micropep is now starting the first phases of the regulatory process in both Europe and the United States. The company expects to launch its first product in 2025 in the US. 


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Horticulture Week Podcast: Fargro’s Richard Hopkins on sustainability, crop protection, energy and and inflation for UK growers

3 May 2022, by Matthew Appleby

Matthew Appleby and Richard Hopkins
Matthew Appleby and Richard Hopkins


Fargro managing director Richard Hopkins discusses the environmental footprint of growing, focusing on sustainability and challenges in the field of  crop protection and renewals of active ingredients.

He sums up changes at the business, which has supported growers for more than 75 years, and speaks frankly about challenges presented by increased energy costs the industry is seeing.

Finally, he looks at what the future looks like for the sector.

Fargro offers efficient delivery of growing media, materials and equipment, advice on increasing yield, protecting your plants from pests, having access to the latest horticultural  solutions and flexible financial and energy services. 

Make sure you never miss a Horticulture Week podcast! Subscribe to or Follow Horticulture Week podcasts via Apple PodcastsSpotify or Google Podcasts or your preferred podcast platform. 

If you are interested in producing a podcast with Horticulture Week, contact matthew.appleby@haymarket.com. 

Listener feedback – please email hortweek@haymarket.com with “Podcast” at the beginning of the subject line.

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Potato farmers conquer a devastating worm—with paper made from bananas

Low-tech approach can quintuple yield and slash need for soil pesticide

Female Golden Nematode (Globodera rostochiensis)
These yellow cysts, attached to potato roots, each contain several hundred eggs that hatch into microscopic worms.USDA/SCIENCE SOURCE


Potato cyst nematodes are a clever pest. These microscopic worms wriggle through the soil, homing in the roots of young potato plants and cutting harvests by up to 70%. They are challenging to get rid of, too: The eggs are protected inside the mother’s body, which toughens after death into a cyst that can survive in the soil for years.

Now, researchers have shown a simple pouch made of paper created from banana tree fibers disrupts the hatching of cyst nematodes and prevents them from finding the potato roots. The new technique has boosted yields five-fold in trials with small-scale farmers in Kenya, where the pest has recently invaded, and could dramatically reduce the need for pesticides. The strategy may benefit other crops as well.

“It’s an important piece of work,” says Graham Thiele, a research director at the International Potato Center who was not involved with the study. But, “There’s still quite a lot of work to take it from a nice finding to a real-life solution for farmers in East Africa,” he cautions.

Soil nematodes are a problem for many kinds of crops. For potatoes, the golden cyst nematode (Globodera rostochiensis) is a worldwide threat. Plants with infected, damaged roots have yellowish, wilting leaves. Their potatoes are smaller and often covered with lesions, so they can’t be sold. In temperate countries, worms can be controlled by alternating potatoes with other crops, spraying the soil with pesticides, and planting varieties bred to resist infection.

These approaches aren’t yet feasible in many developing countries, in part because pesticides are expensive and resistant varieties of potatoes aren’t available for tropical climates. In addition, small-scale farmers, who can make decent money selling potatoes, are often reluctant to rotate their planting with less valuable crops.

In Kenya, the potato cyst nematode has expanded its range and thrived. “The nematode densities are just so astonishingly high,” says Danny Coyne, a nematode expert at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture. This is leading to an additional problem of biodiversity loss: Potato farmers are cutting down forests to create new fields free of the nematodes.

The idea that banana paper could help farmers rid their soil of nematodes was hatched more than 10 years ago. Researchers at North Carolina State University (NC State) were looking for a way to help farmers in developing countries safely deliver small doses of pesticides. They experimented with various materials. What works best, they found, is paper made from banana plants. Their tubular, porous fibers slowly release pesticides in the soil for several weeks before breaking down. By then, the plant has developed enough so that even if it does get infected, it already has a healthy root system.

In a field trial, researchers added abamectin, a pesticide that kills nematodes, to the paper. They also planted potatoes in banana paper without abamectin as a control. To their surprise, those plants grew nearly as well as the ones with pesticides. Coyne mentioned this puzzling result to a colleague, a chemical ecologist named Baldwyn Torto who studies the interactions between pests and plants at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology. “This is fascinating indeed,” Torto recalls thinking.

Together with Juliet Ochola, now a graduate student at NC State, Torto devised several experiments to figure out what was going on. The duo discovered the banana paper holds onto key compounds released from the roots of young potato plants, some of which attract soil microbes that benefit the plant. Nematodes have also evolved to notice these compounds. Some, such as alpha-chaconine, are a signal for nematode eggs to hatch. “If a lot of them hatch at the same time, they’re able to bust open the cysts,” Ochola says. After hatching, the young nematodes sense the compounds and use them to seek out the tender potato roots.

Banana fibers absorbed 94% of the compounds, Ochola and colleagues found. When they exposed nematode eggs to the exudates using the paper, the hatching rate decreased by 85% compared with not using the paper, the team reports today in Nature Sustainability. Other experiments suggested the nematodes that do hatch are far less likely to be able to find potato roots enclosed in the paper.

In nematode-infested fields in Kenya, Coyne and colleagues showed planting potatoes wrapped in plain banana paper tripled the harvest compared with planting without the paper. A tiny dose of abamectin in the paper—just five-thousandths of what would normally be sprayed on the soil—boosted the harvest by another 50%. Presumably, any nematodes that happened to come across the potatoes were then killed by the abamectin. “We’ve got a win here,” Coyne says.

Now, researchers are figuring out how to bring the wrap-and-plant paper to potato farmers in East Africa. Banana plantations in Kenya and nearby countries could supply the fibers, which are now discarded as a waste product. Paper manufacturers could then make the pouches. The biggest challenge, Coyne suspects, will be convincing farmers to buy the paper for the first time.

Once the farmers try the pouches, they’ll find them easy to use, the researchers say. “It’s just wrap and plant,” Ochola says. Simple, yes, but wrapping a lot of potatoes will still be laborious, notes Isabel Conceição, a nematode expert at the University of Coimbra. If a machine is developed to wrap the potatoes, she says, it’s possible the approach might also be feasible on larger farms that use mechanical planters.

Meanwhile, Coyne and his colleagues say they have encouraging results from trials with other tuber crops, such as yam and sweet potato. He also hopes many kinds of vegetables, planted as seeds or seedlings, could be protected from soil pests and pathogens with small pots or trays made from banana fiber, impregnated with various pesticides or biocontrol agents.

The appeal is natural: Banana paper is a biodegradable product, recycled from waste, and it could help protect both farmers and the environment. “We are reducing the amount of pesticides by so much,” Ochola says. “To me, I feel like that’s amazing.”

doi: 10.1126/science.ada1727




Erik Stokstad



Erik is a reporter at Science, covering environmental issues. 

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FEBRUARY 21, 2022

Would micro-ecology be damaged by a plastic film that kills a harmful soil insect?

by Higher Education Press

Would micro ecology be damaged by a plastic film after thoroughly kill Bradysia cellarum?
Credit: Youjun Zhang

Chinese chive (Allium tuberosum) is a perennial herbaceous vegetable with medicinal qualities. Unfortunately, Chinese chive crops are severely damaged by the soil insect Bradysia cellarum. B. cellarum are mainly found in the surface soil to a depth of 5 cm. Department of Plant Protection, Institute of Vegetables and Flowers, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences Investigator Youjun Zhang and his team showed that thermal treatment of B. cellarum adults, eggs, larvae, and pupae at 40 °C for 3 hours produced mortalities of 100%, 100%, 100% and 81%, respectively, and the fecundity of B. cellarum significantly decreased with increasing temperature and exposure time, completely inhibiting egg-laying at 37°C for 2 hours. These data suggested that B. cellarum is quite sensitive to elevated temperatures. As long as soil temperature to a depth of 5 cm is increased and remains over 40°C for 4 hours, the mortality rate of B. cellarum will be 100%. Therefore, the team has been studying how to improve soil temperature without destroying the ecological environment.

Youjun Zhang and his team had believed that applying a light blue anti-dropping film of 0.10 or 0.12 mm thickness would be enough to kill B. cellarum under a sufficient intensity of sunlight (e.g., between late April and mid-September in Beijing, China). The method was called soil solarization. However, it was not known whether soil solarization affects soil microbial diversity. If soil solarization can kill B. cellarum and also avoid affecting Chinese chive growth and the soil microbial ecological balance, it will be an environmentally friendly control technology.

In this study, Youjun Zhang and his team show that on the first day after soil solarization, 100% control of B. cellarum was achieved. Growth of Chinese chive was lower in solarized plots than in control plots over the first 10 days after treatment, but 20 days after treatment, plants in the solarized plot had recovered and leaf height and yields were equivalent among the treatments. Moreover, the soil microbial community diversity in the treatment group decreased initially before gradually recovering. In addition, the abundance of beneficial microorganisms in the genus Bacillus and in the phyla Proteobacteria, Chloroflexi and Firmicutes increased significantly.

Soil solarization is a promising strategy to control B. cellarum. It is simple to implement, pesticide-free and non-destructive to soil microbial diversity, and it may also promote the abundance of beneficial microorganisms. Soil solarization is practical and worth promoting as a new method of control of B. cellarum infestations in Chinese chive-growing regions.

Explore further

Scientists map geographic patterns of soil microbe communities in Hexi Corridor deserts

More information: Effect of Solarization to Kill Bradysia Cellarum on Chinese Chive Growth and Soil Microbial Diversity, Frontiers of Agricultural Science and Engineering (2021). DOI: 10.15302/J-FASE-2021402

Provided by Higher Education Press

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Tobacco Thrips: Tiny Insects With a Big Impact on Georgia Peanut Production


Tobacco thrips (Frankliniella fusca) also have a taste for peanut, and they spread the plant virus causing spotted wilt disease. A new guide in the open-access Journal of Integrated Pest Management details the biology and management of tobacco thrips in peanut crops. (Photo by Jena Johnson, University of Georgia Department of Entomology)

By Gabrielle LaTora

Gabrielle LaTora

Few people other than farmers think about the toll that insect-transmitted viruses have on crop yields. Tomato spotted wilt orthotospovirus (TSWV)—the virus that causes spotted wilt disease in peanut—caused over $27 million (US) in financial losses during the 2020 peanut season in the state of Georgia. Although TSWV infects several crops, it can be devastating for Georgia’s peanut growers, who produce more peanuts than any other state in the U.S.

Peanut plants with spotted wilt disease develop discolored leaflets and abnormal pods and kernels. Often, whole plants become stunted. The primary vector of TSWV in Georgia peanuts is the tobacco thrips (Frankliniella fusca). Besides transmitting TSWV, larvae and adults directly injure peanut plants when feeding, causing additional foliar symptoms and yield losses.

Thrips can be difficult to identify. Life stages of Frankliniella fusca on peanut are shown here: (A) egg; (B) first instar larva; (C) second instar larva; (D) prepupa; (E) pupa; (F) brachypterous adults, female (left) and male. (Scale bar = 0.5 millimeters). (Photos by Yi-Ju Chen and Pin-Chu Lai, Ph.D.)

In “Frankliniella fusca (Thysanoptera: Thripidae), the Vector of Tomato Spotted Wilt Orthotospovirus Infecting Peanut in the Southeastern United States,” published this month in the open-access Journal of Integrated Pest Management, my colleagues at the University of Georgia Vector-Virus Interactions Lab and I provide an overview of F. fusca‘s biology and pest status, including its morphology, life cycle, vector biology, management, and economic impact. Our hope is that this article can be used as a go-to for researchers, extension professionals, farmers, and anyone who wants to learn more about F. fusca. Thrips can be difficult to identify, so we have provided photos and descriptions of each F. fusca life stage and photos of short-winged and long-winged morphs.

Because peanut is an annual crop, F. fusca overwinter in weed hosts surrounding peanut fields until peanuts are planted again in the spring. Many of these plants are also TSWV hosts—F. fusca acquire TSWV as first- and second-instar larvae most likely by feeding on infected weeds before peanuts are available, then moving into croplands and inoculating peanuts in the late spring.

Using TSWV-resistant peanut cultivars has been the most common and successful non-chemical management strategy to date. Resistant cultivars are not immune to the virus, but they exhibit milder symptoms and higher yields than susceptible cultivars. Many growers employ avoidance and disruption strategies, too—they may shift planting dates to avoid peak thrips populations or modify planting patterns to disrupt thrips’ landing cues. Most growers also head off TSWV outbreaks by controlling thrips with prophylactic applications of insecticides, like phorate and imidacloprid. In addition to controlling thrips, phorate—an organophosphate—can actually suppress spotted wilt disease by inducing peanut defenses.

stunted peanut growth
spotted wilt disease foliar symptoms in peanut

Peanut Rx, a disease risk index developed by researchers and extension specialists from southeastern land-grant universities, is a tool used by growers to evaluate the risks of peanut diseases, including spotted wilt, on their farms. Peanut Rx uses individual farm and management characteristics, like plant density, row pattern, irrigation, pesticide programs, and prior disease incidence, to predict disease risks each year.

Although most Georgia peanut growers use a variety of methods to manage F. fusca and TSWV, there are still opportunities to diversify IPM programs. At this time, there are no standardized monitoring protocols or economic thresholds for F. fusca in peanuts. Very few studies have evaluated biological control agents, like thrips-parasitic nematodes and generalist predators, against F. fusca. Although TSWV-resistant cultivars are common, resistance to thrips themselves is not a targeted trait for peanut breeding programs. By “stacking” TSWV and thrips resistance traits, peanut cultivars can become even more resilient.

Read More

Frankliniella fusca (Thysanoptera: Thripidae), the Vector of Tomato Spotted Wilt Orthotospovirus Infecting Peanut in the Southeastern United States

Journal of Integrated Pest Management

Gabrielle LaTora is a research professional and lab manager at the Srinivasan Lab at the University of Georgia Griffin Campus in Griffin, Georgia. Twitter: @Gab_LaTora. Email: gabrielle.latora@uga.edu.


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 Research News

 Frankliniella fuscaGabrielle LaTorageorgiaintegrated pest managementJournal of Integrated Pest Managementpeanuttobacco thripstomato spotted wilt orthotospovirus

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Using Integrated Pest Management to Reduce Pesticides and Increase Food Safety

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Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab

Mar 06, 2018

Photo: A farmer sprays pesticides on cucurbit crops in Bangladesh.
Photo: A farmer sprays pesticides on cucurbit crops in Bangladesh.

Written by Sara Hendery, Communications Coordinator of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Integrated Pest Management

In 2017, thousands of beetles and weevils moved into Ethiopia’s Amhara region. Like most living things, they were hungry, but their appetites desired a specific earthly delicacy: weeds.

Zygogramma, the leaf-feeding beetle, and Listronotus, the stem-boring weevil, were released in Ethiopia by Virginia State University, collaborators of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Integrated Pest Management, funded by USAID and housed at Virginia Tech. Zygogramma and Listronotus combat Parthenium, an invasive weed that threatens food security and biodiversity, causes respiratory issues and rashes on human skin, and taints meat and dairy products when consumed by animals. Biological control and other holistic agricultural methods are specialities of the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Innovation Lab. Its team of scientists and collaborators generate IPM technologies to fight, reduce and manage crop-destroying pests in developing countries while reducing the use of pesticides.  

The application of pesticides is a major threat to human health. In sub-Saharan Africa, more than 50,000 tons of obsolete pesticides blanket the already at-risk land. Pesticides can taint food, water, soil and air, causing headaches, drowsiness, fertility issues and life-threatening illness. Especially vulnerable populations are children, pregnant women and farmers themselves; hundreds of thousands of known deaths occur each year due to pesticide poisoning. Pesticides often increase crop yields, but an abundance of crops is anachronistic when the cost is human life.

In a small community in Bangladesh, farmers used to rely on pesticides to manage insects and agricultural diseases destroying crops, but community members began to develop symptoms from the excessive pesticide use, and, more than that, children were doing the spraying. The IPM Innovation Lab implemented a grafting program in the community that generated eggplant grafted varieties resistant to bacterial wilt. Eggplant yields increased dramatically and purchases of chemical pesticides dropped, which meant safer and healthier produce for families.

This story is one of many. The IPM Innovation Lab taps into a collection of inventive technologies in both its current phase of projects in East Africa and Asia, and since its inception in 1993, to enhance the livelihoods and standards of living for smallholder farmers and people across the globe:

  • In Vietnam, dragon fruit is covered in biodegradable plastic bags to protect the plants from fungal disease.
  • In Niger, the release of parasitoids eliminates the pearl millet headminer.
  • The spread of coconut dust inside seedling trays grows healthy plants in India.
  • Parasitic wasps destroy the papaya mealybug from India to Florida.
  • Trichoderma, a naturally occurring fungus in soil, fights against fungal diseases in India, the Philippines and elsewhere.  
  • Cuelure bait traps save cucurbits from fruit flies in Bangladesh.
  • Eggplant fruit and shootborer baits protect eggplants from insect damage in Nepal, India and Bangladesh.

Pesticides do not necessarily eliminate pest invasion; they eliminate even the “good” insects on plants. Insects often develop resistance to popular chemicals when applied frequently, so not only is chemical spraying sometimes unnecessary, it is excessive.

Tuta absoluta, for example, is a tomato leafminer destroying tomato crops across the globe. In Spain, in the first year of the pest’s introduction, pesticides were applied 15 times per season, but the pest is resistant to pesticides and is so small (about the size of a stray pencil mark) that it often burrows inside the plant rather than around it. The IPM Innovation Lab and its collaborators generated one-of-a-kind modeling to track the movement of the species and introduced pheromone traps and neem-based bio-pesticides to help manage its spread, further ensuring the implementation of a series of technologies, rather than just relying on one, to reduce crop damage. The age-old saying “two heads are better than one” is accurate — just ask Zygogramma and Listronotus.

In developing countries, it is difficult to regulate the amount of chemical pesticides that make it onto crops, thus increasing the risk that chemicals will have a dramatic effect on the safety of food and the potential for exposure to foreign markets. One of the reasons pesticide over-application is common in developing countries is due to misinformation. In Cambodian rice production, pesticides are often misused because labels are printed in a foreign language; it is common that farmers mix two to five pesticides, resulting in pesticide poisoning. The IPM Innovation Lab’s project in Cambodia reduces the number of pesticides in rice production by introducing host-plant resistance and biological control.

Also, a fundamental practice of the IPM Innovation Lab is conducting trainings and symposia for farmers and IPM collaborators across the world to educate on the use and implementation of IPM technologies, further reducing the risk of possible harm to crops and human life. Additionally, IPM Innovation Lab partners with agriculture input suppliers and markets in project communities to ensure that bio-pesticides and IPM materials such as traps are readily available and that the purchase of pesticides are not the only option.

Ultimately, when you spray, you pay. The IPM Innovation Lab prioritizes both human and plant health by reducing the use of pesticides, and with the human population growing by the thousands every day, it is crucial that food is not only abundant but also safe and healthy to eat.

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