Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

Grahame Jackson

Sydney NSW, Australia


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25 days ago


Scientists address global crop growing challenge
Synthetic engineering of α-carboxysomes into tobacco chloroplasts. a Schematic representation of the strategies


by University of Liverpool
A study led by University of Liverpool scientists has revealed a new way to improve crop growth, meeting a significant challenge to increase crop productivity in a changing climate with a growing population.

With global levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) rising and the population set to reach almost 10 billion by 2050, Professor Luning Liu’s team of researchers used synthetic biology and plant engineering techniques to improve photosynthesis, creating a template that can be used on a mass scale.

Photosynthesis is the process by which plants use atmospheric CO2 to create nutrients, which are crucial for growth and the global ecosystem. The newly published paper details how the team of scientists have improved Rubisco, a key enzyme present in photosynthesis that converts CO2 into energy. Usually Rubisco is inefficient and limits photosynthesis in major crops. However, many microorganisms including bacteria have evolved efficient systems, named “CO2-concentrating mechanisms,” to improve Rubisco.

Read on: https://phys.org/news/2023-04-scientists-global-crop.html

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Wednesday, 28 September 2022 08:23:46

Grahame Jackson posted a new submission ‘Sugary poo could be used to lure destructive plant pests to their doom’


Sugary poo could be used to lure destructive plant pests to their doom


Male spotted lanternflies are strongly attracted to smell of honeybee produced by male conspecifics
by Frontiers

Spotted lanternflies communicate through their smelly excretions  ̶  called honeydew, reports a new study in Frontiers in Insect Science. This invasive species has been impacting crops in the northeastern US, but little is known about how these insects locate each other for reproduction or feeding. According to this latest research, the insects’ honeydew emits several airborne chemicals that attract other lanternflies. Surprisingly, these effects are sex-specific, which may be the first known case of such signals in insects known as planthoppers.

“This research is important because the first step to managing any pest is to understand their biology and behavior,” said Dr Miriam Cooperband of the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Plant Protection and Quarantine Division (USDA APHIS PPQ) in the US. “As we learn more about the behavior of the spotted lanternfly, we hope to find a vulnerability that we can use to develop pest management tools to reduce its population and spread.”

Attractive scents

Although these insects are known to leave their excretions throughout the understory, they have the peculiar habit of coming together in huge numbers on only select tree trunks. Other tree trunks are mysteriously left untouched. These multitudes of lanternflies can secrete so much honeydew that the surface of the tree becomes white and frothy, as well as emitting a smell of fermentation.

To study the signals sent by these excretions, Cooperband and her collaborators collected honeydew samples separately from male and female lanternflies in the field, to test in the lab. The researchers then gave lanternflies a choice between areas with or without the different types of honeydew to see what attracted them. 

Surprisingly, males were strongly attracted to male honeydew, while both males and females were only slightly attracted to female honeydew. Although it’s still unclear what would cause this behavior, this is consistent with observations of how these insects behave in the field.

The team went on to analyze the different components of the honeydew to determine which produced the strongest signals. Five molecules were tested for attraction and found to have specific sex-attractant profiles. Two molecules called benzyl acetate and 2-octanone attracted both sexes, one molecule called 2-heptanone attracted only males, one molecule 2-nonanone attracted only females and one molecule, 1-nonanol, repelled females, but not males.

Pest control

These findings are just the beginning for better understanding how to potentially control this invasive pest. There are many more questions, such as whether there are seasonal variations in this behavior, and whether there are interactions with microbes in the honeydew that produce the necessary chemicals.

“Spotted lanternfly behavior and communication is quite complex, and this is only the tip of the iceberg. In addition to our work studying chemical signals, such as those in honeydew, we are also interested in the role of substrate vibrations in their communication system,” said Cooperband. “Future research might focus on understanding how they locate each other when they gather and find mates using multiple types of signals.”

Original paper: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/finsc.2022.982965/full

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Sky Islands: Isolated Mountaintops Teem With Unique Insect Communities


For a study of the communities of parasitic wasps on mountains in the Interior Highlands of Arkansas, one of the sites chosen was Mount Magazine State Park in Arkansas, which rises 709 meters (2,326 feet) above sea level. With cooler, wetter climates than lowlands nearby, such each feature their own communities of parasitic wasps—and likely other insects—that differ from the insect fauna found on other mountains and in the surrounding valleys, according to a new study published in August in Environmental Entomology. (Photo courtesy of Allison Monroe)

By Ed Ricciuti

Ed Ricciuti

It’s not quite Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle’s Lost World of dinosaurs, but the insect life found by scientists atop so-called “sky islands” in Arkansas ranks as truly unique.

“Sky island” is a term popularized in the 1960s to describe isolated mountains with environments markedly different than that of surrounding lowlands. Conan-Doyle prefigured such environments in his story about an expedition that explored a plateau rising above jungle, where prehistoric dinosaurs, reptiles and “ape men” had survived the ages.

Although not as dramatic as dinosaurs, isolated endemic populations of animals of any size excite scientists. According to a study published in August in Environmental Entomology, such distinct assemblages of insects in the order Hymenoptera (sawflies, bees, wasps, and ants) live atop uplands in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, and Illinois called the Interior Highlands.

The study, by student researchers at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas, focused on parasitic wasps inhabiting three mountains, but the results can be extrapolated to other sky islands in the region and their insects in general, the researchers say.

“Given that each sky island in our study showed unique community characteristics of Hymenoptera, it is reasonable to predict that other insects follow the same pattern,” the authors write. Mountains studied were Petit Jean Mountain at 253 meters (830 feet) in elevation, Mount Magazine at 709 meters (2,326 feet) and Rich Mountain at 747 meters (2,451 feet).

field site

Parasitic Hymenoptera are a multitudinous group, with 50,000 or so identified species and perhaps millions in all. Typically, they parasitize other insects by laying their eggs in host eggs, larvae, or pupae. They are of immense ecological importance because they are fine-tuned to specific hosts, including many pest species, which they can regulate, like natural pest control managers. “We chose parasitic Hymenoptera as our focal group because they are considered bioindicators of broader diversity patterns, especially those of other insects,” the authors write.

The Interior Highlands, centered in Missouri and Arkansas and including the Ouachita Mountains and Ozark Plateau, were chosen as a study site because they have been above sea level for 320 million years, likely serving as a refuge for ecological communities avoiding the impact of the Pleistocene glaciers. The region is the only major mountainous area between the Appalachians and the Rockies, covering much more area than the Black Hills of South Dakota. Typical of the Interior Highlands, Mount Magazine is 10 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than normal temperatures in the landscape down below and wet, with an annual rainfall of 54 inches. Crowned with upland hardwood and upland pine-hardwood forests, these mountains rise from grasslands, with vegetation ranging from tallgrass prairie to lowland pine-hardwood and bottomland hardwood forests.

Much of the area where the research was conducted lies in state and federal lands. Sweating in the hot summer sun, the research team trekked along hiking trails from grasslands into woodlands. They set up traps, then collected insects from them.

“Though evidence is accumulating that the Interior Highlands host unique species relative to other areas of the North American continent, there is less known about how mountaintops within the region compare in terms of biodiversity,” the researchers write. “We used parasitic Hymenoptera to explore biodiversity patterns across high elevation areas in Arkansas to determine whether these patterns are similar to those exhibited by other sky island regions.”

malaise trap
research team

Each mountaintop had its distinct community of parasitoid species, indicating that the same applies to Hymenoptera in general and even to other groups of insects. On a given mountaintop, communities differed stratigraphically, with those on the ground distinct from those in the forest canopy.

The results of the study suggest the need for additional research. “Our study suggests that these highland areas are important regions of North American biodiversity and that they should be evaluated individually for conservation efforts in order to preserve their distinctive community structure,” the authors write.

Elaborating on the study, lead author Allison Monroe, says, “This study is important for a variety of reasons. Parasitic wasps are deeply important to our environment but are often overlooked if not deeply hated.”

Monroe, now a Ph.D. candidate at the Oregon State University College of Forestry, says, “Arkansas is an incredibly biodiverse state with high rates of agricultural production, yet little research exists on insect biodiversity trends and their applied impacts on diverse land management strategies within this system. We hope that this paper brings to light the extraordinary diversity housed in Arkansas, the importance of insect biodiversity more broadly, and the significance of parasites in our pursuits of nature conservation.”

Read More

Biodiversity of Parasitic Hymenoptera Across Sky Islands of Arkansas, United States

Environmental Entomology

Ed Ricciuti is a journalist, author, and naturalist who has been writing for more than a half century. His latest book is called Bears in the Backyard: Big Animals, Sprawling Suburbs, and the New Urban Jungle (Countryman Press, June 2014). His assignments have taken him around the world. He specializes in nature, science, conservation issues, and law enforcement. A former curator at the New York Zoological Society, and now at the Wildlife Conservation Society, he may be the only man ever bitten by a coatimundi on Manhattan’s 57th Street.

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omeCropsCotton Cotton gene-editing project aims to make plant more insect resistant

Cotton gene-editing project aims to make plant more insect resistant

Shelley E. Huguleybanner- swfp-shelley-huguley-eddie-eric-smith-jdcs770-20.jpg

Texas A&M AgriLife, USDA and Cotton Incorporated collaborate on the research project.

Farm Press Staff | Aug 24, 2022



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Aug 30, 2022 to Sep 01, 2022

Scieintists in the Texas A&M Department of Entomology have received a matching grant of almost $150,000 to conduct a three-year project to research novel pest management tools for cotton production. If successful, the project, Modifying Terpene Biosynthesis in Cotton to Enhance Insect Resistance Using a Transgene-free CRISPR/CAS9 Approach, could provide positive cost-benefit results that ripple through the economy and environment.

The project goal is to silence genes in cotton that produce monoterpenes, chemicals that produce an odor pest insects home in on, said Greg Sword, Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientist, Regents professor and Charles R. Parencia Endowed chair in the Department of Entomology. By removing odors that pests associate with a good place to feed and reproduce, scientists believe they can reduce infestations, which will in turn reduce pesticide use and improve profitability.


Research to improve a plant’s ability to tolerate or resist pest insects and diseases via breeding programs is nothing new, Sword said. But editing genomes in plants and pest insects is a relatively new and rapidly advancing methodology.

swfp-shelley-huguley-sam-stanley-cotton-drip-22.jpgA gene-editing project aims to expose and exploit simple but key ecological interactions between plants and insects that could help protect the plant. This is Sam Stanley’s 2022 drip-irrigated cotton near Levelland, Texas. (Photo by Shelley E. Huguley)

Sequencing genomes of interest and using the gene-editing tool CRISPR have become increasingly viable ways to identify and influence plant or animal characteristics. 

However, using gene-editing technology to remove a characteristic to make plants more resistant to pests is novel, Sword said. The research could be the genesis for a giant leap in new methodologies designed to protect plants from insects and other threats. 

Sword’s gene-editing project aims to expose and exploit simple but key ecological interactions between plants and insects that could help protect the plant.

“Insects are perpetually evolving resistance to whatever we throw at them,” Sword said. “So, it’s important that our tools continue to evolve.”

The matching grant is from both the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture, NIFA, and the Cotton Board, a commodity group that represents thousands of growers across Texas and the U.S. The grant totals $294,000.

Critical seed funding 

Sword is collaborating with Anjel Helms, chemical ecologist and assistant professor in the Department of Entomology; Michael Thomson, AgriLife Research geneticist in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences and the Crop Genome Editing Laboratory; and graduate student Mason Clark.

This research team is working on a project that was “seeded” by Cotton Incorporated, the industry’s not-for-profit company that supports research, marketing and promotion of cotton and cotton products.

The seed money allowed the AgriLife Research team to create a graduate position for Clark and produce preliminary data that laid the foundation for the NIFA grant proposal, Sword said. In addition, the terpene research is part of larger and parallel projects that began with direct support from Cotton Incorporated.    

“Cotton Incorporated’s support has been absolutely critical to jumpstart the project from the beginning,” he said. “From a scientific standpoint, industry support and collaboration are vital to project success, whether that’s leveraging money for research or identifying, focusing on and solving a problem, which actually helps producers.”

Industry collaborations strengthen the impact

Texas cotton production represents a $2.4 billion contribution to the state’s gross domestic product. From 2019 to 2021, Texas cotton producers averaged 6.2 million bales of cotton on 4.6 million harvested acres, generating $2.1 billion in production value. The Texas cotton industry supports more than 40,000 jobs statewide and $1.55 billion in annual labor income.

Research like Sword’s is augmented and sometimes directly funded by commodity groups representing producers and related industries.


Projects supported by the Cotton Board and Cotton Incorporated run the gamut of production, including reducing plant water demands, increasing pest and disease resistance, and improving seed and fiber quality. (Photo by Shelley E. Huguley)

Jeffrey W. Savell, vice chancellor and dean for Agriculture and Life Sciences, said collaborative projects help research dollars make the greatest impact for producers. Texas A&M AgriLife’s relationships with commodity groups that represent producers can jumpstart groundbreaking work and help established programs maintain forward momentum.

“Cotton Incorporated is one of our long-time partners, and that collaboration has made an enormous impact on individuals, farming operations, communities and the state,” Savell said. “This project is just one example of how we can do more by engaging with the producers we serve.”

The Cotton Board’s research investment

Bill Gillon, president and CEO of the Cotton Board, said projects supported by the Cotton Board and Cotton Incorporated have run the gamut of production, including reducing plant water demands, increasing pest and disease resistance, and improving seed and fiber quality.

Cotton Incorporated scientists typically identify a need or a vulnerability and create and prioritize topics for potential projects. These projects are developed in coordination with agricultural research programs that will either be directly funded by the group or could be submitted to funding agencies for competitive grants. The Cotton Board reviews project proposals and approves them for submission to NIFA for competitive grant dollars.

The Cotton Board’s Cotton Research and Promotion Program has generated more than $4 million in competitive cotton research grants from NIFA over the past three years, Gillon said. When coupled with $1.35 million from the Cotton Board, the program has generated $5.4 million in agricultural research funding for projects critical to improving productivity and sustainability for upland cotton growers in the U.S.

Gillon said funding-match grants represent a collaborative investment that maximizes financial support for science, ultimately impacting growers and local economies throughout Texas and the Cotton Belt.

swfp-shelley-huguley-21-cotton-harvest-sunset-vert.jpgPublic-private strategic support for research emphasizing sustainable practices across the agricultural spectrum has far-reaching benefits, says Phillip Kaufman, head of the Department of Entomology, Texas A&M University. (Photo by Shelley E. Huguley)

“We value our long-standing relationship with Texas A&M and other institutions across the Cotton Belt because the work would not be done without their expertise,” he said. “We certainly view this as a partnership and want to support their land-grant mission and help researchers maintain their capabilities, programs and labs that continue to produce results critical for cotton producers and agricultural production.” 

Industry buy-in 

Phillip Kaufman, head of the Department of Entomology, said an overarching goal for his department is addressing relevant topics or concerns, from public health to agricultural production. Whether research meets the immediate needs of producers or lays the foundation for breakthroughs in coming decades, many agricultural research projects’ relevance is guided by producer input.

Industry buy-in is critical to entomology research, he said. Topics relevant to commodities, in this case, cotton, and the public’s interest, in this case, NIFA, is a good representation of how the land-grant mission delivers for producers but can also ripple through communities, the economy and the environment.

Kaufman said public-private strategic support for research emphasizing sustainable practices across the agricultural spectrum has far-reaching benefits.

“This grant project is a good example of how cotton producers, the gins and other elements of their industry effectively tax themselves to fund campaigns and research that adds value to what they produce,” he said. “It also shows the motivation from a public dollar perspective to invest in research focused on providing pest control methods that reduce chemical use.”


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Site logo image Entomology Today posted: ” By Melissa Mayer If you peer into the right shrubs, the eyeballs that stare back might be some of the most intriguing known to entomology: eye stalks! These specialized eyes perched at the ends of antler-like stems are common among mollusks and” Entomology Today New Insight Into the Eye-Popping Biology of Stalk-Eyed Fruit Flies Entomology Today Aug 12 In a new study, researchers reveal how the unique stalk-eyed fruit flies develop, reproduce, and interact with each other—and their work may shed light on eye-stalk evolution among arthropods. Read more of this post   Comment   Unsubscribe to no longer receive posts from Entomology Today.
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How a harmful fungus renders its host plant defenseless

Study shows the surgical precision employed by the pathogen in this processPeer-Reviewed Publication


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Maize plant

Ustilago maydis attacks and reproduces in the aerial parts of the corn plant. Huge tumor-like tissue growth often form at the site of infection. These galls can reach the size of a child’s head. The growths are triggered by molecules released by the fungus, called effectors. They manipulate the plant’s metabolism and suppress its immune system. They also promote cell growth and division in corn. To do this, they interfere with a plant signaling pathway regulated by the plant hormone auxin.

“The fungus uses this auxin signaling pathway for its own purposes,” explains Prof. Dr. Armin Djamei, who heads the Plant Pathology Department at the INRES Institute of the University of Bonn. “This is because the huge growth of the tissue devours energy and resources that are then lacking for defense against Ustilago maydis. In addition, the fungus finds an ideal supply of nutrients in the growths and can multiply well there.” The formation of the characteristic galls is thus definitely in the interest of the pathogen.

“We therefore wanted to find out how the fungus promotes these proliferation processes,” says Djamei. “To do this, we searched for genetic material in the fungus that enables it to control the auxin signaling pathway of its host plant and thus its cell growth.” The complex search began seven years ago at the Gregor Mendel Institute in Vienna. Later, the crop researcher continued the work at the Leibniz Institute in Gatersleben and later at the University of Bonn.

Pathogen reprograms its host

With success: Together with his collaborators, he was able to identify five genes that the fungus uses to manipulate the host plant’s auxin signaling pathway. These five genes, called Tip1 to Tip5, form what is known as a cluster: If one imagines the entire genome of Ustilago maydis as a thick encyclopedia, these five lie, as it were, on successive pages.

Genes are construction manuals – the fungus needs them to produce respective proteins. “The proteins encoded by the five Tip genes can bind to a protein in the corn plant known to experts as Topless,” explains Dr. Janos Bindics. A former employee of the Gregor Mendel Institute, he and his colleague Dr. Mamoona Khan performed many of the study’s key experiments.

Topless is a central switch that suppresses very different signaling pathways in the plant. The fungal effectors produced by the five Tip genes override this repression – and do so very specifically for signaling pathways that benefit the fungus, such as the auxin-driven growth signaling pathway. In contrast, other signaling pathways controlled by Topless are not affected. “Figuratively speaking, the fungus acts with surgical precision,” stresses Djamei. “It accomplishes exactly what it needs to accomplish to best infect the corn plant.”

Insights for basic research

There are a number of pathogens that interfere with the auxin signaling pathway of the hosts they infect. Exactly how is often not fully understood. It may be that Topless plays an important role in this process in other crops as well. After all, the protein originated several hundreds of millions of years ago and its central role has hardly changed since then. It therefore exists not only in corn, but in a similar form in all other land plants. For example, the researchers were able to show that the Tip effectors of Ustilago maydis also interfere with the auxin signaling pathway of other plant species.

The findings could therefore help to better understand the infection processes in important plant diseases. The results are particularly interesting for basic research: “Through them, it will be possible for the first time to influence specific effects of the auxin signaling pathway in a very targeted manner and thus to elucidate the effect of these important plant hormones even more precisely,” hopes Armin Djamei, who is a member of the Transdisciplinary Research Area “Sustainable Futures” and the PhenoRob Cluster of Excellence at the University of Bonn.


New Phytologist




Many ways to TOPLESS – manipulation of plant auxin signalling by a cluster of fungal effectors



Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are n

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Science News

from research organizations

Climate change is making plants more vulnerable to disease. New research could help them fight back

To keep food on the table in a warming world, researchers are bolstering plant immunity against the heat.

Date:June 29, 2022Source:Duke UniversitySummary:When heat waves hit, they don’t just take a toll on people — plants suffer too. That’s because when temperatures rise, certain plant defenses don’t work as well, leaving them more susceptible to attacks from pathogens and pests. Scientists say they have identified a specific protein in plant cells that explains why immunity falters as the mercury rises. They’ve also figured out a way to bolster plant defenses against the heat.Share:


When heat waves hit, they don’t just take a toll on people — the plants we depend on for food suffer too. That’s because when temperatures get too high, certain plant defenses don’t work as well, leaving them more susceptible to attacks from pathogens and insect pests.

Now, scientists say they have identified a specific protein in plant cells that explains why immunity falters as the mercury rises. They’ve also figured out a way to reverse the loss and bolster plant defenses against the heat.

The findings, appearing June 29 in the journal Nature, were found in a spindly plant with white flowers called Arabidopsis thaliana that is the “lab rat” of plant research. If the same results hold up in crops too, it would be welcome news for food security in a warming world, said Duke University biologist and corresponding author Sheng-Yang He.

Scientists have known for decades that above-normal temperatures suppress a plant’s ability to make a defense hormone called salicylic acid, which fires up the plant’s immune system and stops invaders before they cause too much damage. But the molecular basis of this immunity meltdown wasn’t well understood.

In the mid 2010s, He and his then-graduate student Bethany Huot found that even brief heat waves can have a dramatic effect on hormone defenses in Arabidopsis plants, leaving them more prone to infection by a bacterium called Pseudomonas syringae.

Normally when this pathogen attacks, the levels of salicylic acid in a plant’s leaves go up 7-fold to keep bacteria from spreading. But when temperatures rise above 86 degrees for just two days — not even triple digits — plants can no longer make enough defense hormone to keep infection from taking hold.

“Plants get a lot more infections at warm temperatures because their level of basal immunity is down,” He said. “So we wanted to know, how do plants feel the heat? And can we actually fix it to make plants heat-resilient?”

Around the same time, a different team had found that molecules in plant cells called phytochromes function as internal thermometers, helping plants sense warmer temperatures in the spring and activate growth and flowering.

So He and his colleagues wondered: could these same heat-sensing molecules be what’s knocking down the immune system when things warm up, and be the key to bringing it back?

To find out, the researchers took normal plants and mutant plants whose phytochromes were always active regardless of temperature, infected them with P. syringae bacteria, and grew them at 73 and 82 degrees to see how they did. But the phytochrome mutants fared exactly like normal plants: they still couldn’t make enough salicylic acid when temperatures rose to fend off infections.

Co-first authors Danve Castroverde and Jonghum Kim spent several years doing similar experiments with other gene suspects, and those mutant plants got sick during warm spells too. So they tried a different strategy. Using next-generation sequencing, they compared gene readouts in infected Arabidopsis plants at normal and elevated temperatures. It turned out that many of the genes that were suppressed at elevated temperatures were regulated by the same molecule, a gene called CBP60g.

The CBP60g gene acts like a master switch that controls other genes, so anything that downregulates or “turns off” CBP60g means lots of other genes are turned off, too — they don’t make the proteins that enable a plant cell to build up salicylic acid.

Further experiments revealed that the cellular machinery needed to start reading out the genetic instructions in the CBP60g gene doesn’t assemble properly when it gets too hot, and that’s why the plant’s immune system can’t do its job anymore.

The team was able to show that mutant Arabidopsis plants that had their CBP60g gene constantly “switched on” were able to keep their defense hormone levels up and bacteria at bay, even under heat stress.

Next the researchers found a way to engineer heat-resilient plants that turned on the CBP60g master switch only when under attack, and without stunting their growth — which is critical if the findings are going to help protect plant defenses without negatively impacting crop yields.

The findings could be good news for food supplies made insecure by climate change, He said.

Global warming is making heat waves worse, weakening plants’ natural defenses. But already, up to 40% of food crops worldwide are lost to pests and diseases each year, costing the global economy some $300 billion.

At the same time, population growth is driving up the world’s demand for food. To feed the estimated 10 billion people expected on Earth by 2050, forecasts suggest that food production will need to increase by 60%.

When it comes to future food security, He says the real test will be whether their strategy to protect immunity in Arabidopsis plants works in crops as well.

The team found that elevated temperatures didn’t just impair salicylic acid defenses in Arabidopsis plants — it had a similar effect on crop plants such as tomato, rapeseed and rice.

Follow-up experiments to restore CBP60g gene activity in rapeseed thus far are showing the same promising results. In fact, genes with similar DNA sequences are found across plants, He says.

In Arabidopsis, keeping the CPB60g master switch from feeling the heat not only restored genes involved in making salicylic acid, but also protected other defense-related genes against warmer temperatures too.

“We were able to make the whole plant immune system more robust at warm temperatures,” He said. “If this is true for crop plants as well, that’s a really big deal because then we have a very powerful weapon.”

This work was a joint effort between He’s team and colleagues at Yale University, the University of California, Berkeley, and Tao Chen Huazhong Agricultural University in China. A patent application has been filed based on this work.

This research was supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Korean Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship, National Institutes of Health T32 Predoctoral Fellowship, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Exceptional Research Opportunities Fellowship, National Natural Science Foundation of China, and MSU Plant Resilience Institute and Duke Science and Technology Initiative.

Story Source:

Materials provided by Duke University. Original written by Robin A. Smith. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Jong Hum Kim, Christian Danve M. Castroverde, Shuai Huang, Chao Li, Richard Hilleary, Adam Seroka, Reza Sohrabi, Diana Medina-Yerena, Bethany Huot, Jie Wang, Kinya Nomura, Sharon K. Marr, Mary C. Wildermuth, Tao Chen, John D. MacMicking, Sheng Yang He. Increasing the resilience of plant immunity to a warming climateNature, 2022; DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-04902-y

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Effective plant health management is critical for improving the productivity, profitability, sustainability and resilience of agrifood systems. Yet, farming communities, especially in low- and middle-income countries, continue to struggle against plant pests and diseases. Each year, these threats cause 10–40% losses to major food crops, costing the global economy US$220 billion. Recent analyses show that the highest losses due to pests and diseases are associated with food-deficit regions with fast-growing populations.

Increasing trade and travel, coupled with weak phytosanitary systems, are accelerating the global spread of devastating pests and diseases. The situation is exacerbated by climate change, driving the emergence of new threats. These burdens fall disproportionately on women and poorly resourced communities.

Diagnostic capacity, global-scale surveillance data, risk forecasting and rapid response and management systems for major pests and diseases are still lacking. Inadequate knowledge and access to climate-smart control options often leave smallholders and marginalized communities poorly equipped to respond to biotic threats. Environmental effects of toxic pesticides, mycotoxin exposure and acute unintentional pesticide poisoning are major concerns globally.


This Initiative aims to protect agriculture-based economies of low- and middle-income countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America from devastating pest incursions and disease outbreaks, by leveraging and building viable networks across an array of national, regional and global institutions.


This objective will be achieved by:

  • Bridging knowledge gaps and networks for plant health threat identification and characterization, focusing on strengthening the diagnostic and surveillance capacity of national plant protection organizations and national agricultural research and extension systems, and facilitating knowledge exchange on pests and diseases.
  • Risk assessment, data management and guiding preparedness for rapid response, focusing on controlling the introduction and spread of pests and diseases by developing and enhancing tools and standards.
  • Integrated pest and disease management, focusing on designing and deploying approaches against prioritized plant health threats in targeted crops and cropping systems.
  • Tools and processes for protecting food chains from mycotoxin contamination: designing and deploying two innovations for reducing mycotoxin contamination to protect health, increase food/feed safety, enhance trade, diversify end-use and boost income.
  • Equitable and inclusive scaling of plant health innovations to achieve impacts, through multistakeholder partnerships, inter-disciplinary research and effective communications.


This Initiative will work in the following countries: Bangladesh, Benin, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ecuador, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Lebanon, Mali, Malawi, Mexico, Morocco, Mozambique, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, Peru, the Philippines, Rwanda, Senegal, Sudan, Tunisia, United Republic of Tanzania, Uganda, Vietnam, Zambia and Zimbabwe.


Proposed 3-year outcomes include:

  1. National plant protection organizations in at least 10 target countries participate in a global plant diagnostic and surveillance network, exchanging data and knowledge.
  2. At least 25 national partners in 10 target countries use the novel diagnostic and surveillance tools to effectively counter existing or emerging plant health threats.
  3. At least 10 target national plant protection organizations increase their capacity to use epidemiological modeling data and decision support tools for pest risk assessment and preparedness to counter prioritized pests and diseases.
  4. A global plant health consortium comprising 60–70 institutions is operational, codeveloping and deploying integrated pest and disease management innovation packages and educational curriculum for effective plant health management.
  5. Adoption of eco-friendly and climate-smart integrated pest and disease management innovations by at least 4 million smallholders in 15 countries results in reduction in crop losses of at least 5% and use of toxic pesticides of at least 10%.
  6. At least 10 private sector partners in four focal countries in Africa commercialize Aflasafe to 200,000 farmers (400,000 ha of maize), resulting in enhanced availability of safe and nutritious food and feed.
  7. At least 300,000 smallholder households across five countries use affordable and easy-to-use pre- and post-harvest integrated mycotoxin management innovations for mitigating contamination of the food chain.
  8. Plant health research communities in at least 12 targeted countries use needs assessment evidence and data to develop demand-driven, equitable and scalable innovations.
  9. National and regional partners use validated scaling approaches for detection, surveillance and management of pests, diseases and mycotoxin.
  10. Based on science-based plant health policy briefs, investors and decision makers in targeted regions create an enabling environment for research for development and scaling of plant health innovations.


Projected impacts and benefits include:

POVERTY REDUCTION, LIVELIHOODS & JOBSLivelihoods of more than 27 million people (more than 6 million households) across 13 target countries are improved due to increased yield stability and containment of pest- and disease-induced crop and food losses at the field- and landscape-levels through development and delivery of eco-friendly innovations to detect and control pests and diseases.
NUTRITION, HEALTH & FOOD SECURITYMore than 110 million people (more than 16 million households) benefit from better resilience of crops and cropping systems, better preparedness to counter biotic threats exacerbated by climate variability and changing farming practices, further increasing food security and farm profitability, and reducing food prices.Losses in yield and quality of major food crops due to pests and diseases are reduced through integrated pest and disease management innovations. Food and feed are made safer for consumption by reducing pesticide and mycotoxin contamination in targeted crops, improving human and animal health.
GENDER EQUALITY, YOUTH & SOCIAL INCLUSIONAround 8 million women have increased access to and benefit from plant health innovations through prioritization and implementation of approaches for gender-equitable and socially inclusive design and scaling of plant health innovations. These are supported by multi-stakeholder partnerships and new opportunities for women and youth.
CLIMATE ADAPTATION & MITIGATIONMore than 8 million people (more than 1.27 million households) benefit from reduced impact of climate-induced changes in pests and diseases on crops, food security, and livelihoods through better preparedness and adaptation of plant health innovations based on improved forecasting of threats and modeling of impacts.
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH & BIODIVERSITYReduction in use of toxic pesticides and associated safety hazards, including pesticide residues in the environment, due to integrated disease and pest management and prioritization of nature-based solutions are applied on more than 9 million hectares of maize crops, benefiting more than 24 million people (more than 5 million households). Natural biodiversity and ecologies are protected from devastating invasive pests and pathogens and toxic pesticides.
For more details, view the Initiative proposal

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mardi station

Pairing U.S. and West African Institutions Leads to Accelerated Breeding Breakthroughs

Pearl Millet breeding brings adapted and high-yielding varieties to smallholder farmers to enhance productivity and food security in West Africa.

Pearl millet is a staple food for millions of people, especially many of those living in extreme climatic production areas and economic poverty. In West Africa, pearl millet is one of the top cultivated crops by area. These are just two of the reasons why it’s important to concentrate on pearl millet production to increase farm productivity and food security for communities in West Africa and other countries.

The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Sorghum and Millet (SMIL) is supporting key research and improved seed to address this challenge. The Genetic Enhancement of Pearl Millet for Yield, Biotic and Abiotic Stress Tolerance in West Africa (GENMIL) project was started in 2018 to accelerate pearl millet innovations to increase food security and income.

Since its beginning in 2018, the GENMIL project has seen collaborative efforts from the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique du Niger (INRAN) and the Institut Sénégalais de Recherches Agricoles (ISRA) through the Centre d’Etudes Régional pour l’Amélioration de l’Adaptation à la Sécheresse (CERAAS). In fact, modernizing the INRAN and ISRA breeding programs was a major feat of the project.

Dr. Ndjido Kane (CERAAS director, SMIL Senegal coordinator, and SMIL GENMIL project principal investigator) said, “We are modernizing breeding programs in Western Africa. As a program, we benefit from the technology we are bringing into the region because we can share the findings of what we develop for Senegal with other partners in the region since we share the same Sahelian drought-prone environments. We’re focusing more on trait discovery and product development and have new investments that can screen for drought tolerance.”

Pairing U.S. and West African Institutions Leads to Accelerated Breeding Breakthroughs
Farmer Input is Necessary to Increase Adaptation and Food Security

Even with new technologies, none of these advancements would be made without direct and frequent dialogue between scientists and farmers. This back-and-forth is critical for a high adoption rate of the innovations created by the scientific community. During this project, at least 160 farmers visited plots of pearl millet varieties in Senegal. With their feedback, resistance to biotic stresses such as Striga, downy mildew and drought were identified as the most important traits they consider when selecting a variety to grow in their field.

“We have to give credit to farmers. It’s their management systems and knowledge we are using to see how we can improve those practices and systems in combination with the new varieties we are proposing to them,” said Kane.“We don’t want to propose something they do not want to use, so it is easier to ask them what they need. Each farmer brings their own knowledge and we add technical or scientific knowledge to move forward together.”

This collaboration has resulted in three open-pollinated varieties and the first-ever hybrid from the ISRA pearl millet program — all dual-purpose, high-yielding and richer in nutrient content compared to the most cultivated variety, Souna 3.

Farmers are adopting these new varieties, which is resulting in tripling the population of the crop being cultivated. This yield increase will result in improved food security and greater income and possibly new jobs being created. 

“I use this example: the farmers will use one-third of their production as table food, but if they tripled production, they now have two-thirds left that they can sell, export or keep for the next year,” said Kane. “The result is increased income for the farmer and more readily available products for consumers.” 


This collaboration has resulted in three open-pollinated varieties and the first-ever hybrid from the ISRA pearl millet program — all dual-purpose, high-yielding and richer in nutrient content compared to the most cultivated variety, Souna 3.

Farmers are adopting these new varieties, which is resulting in tripling the population of the crop being cultivated. This yield increase will result in improved food security and greater income and possibly new jobs being created. 

“I use this example: the farmers will use one-third of their production as table food, but if they tripled production, they now have two-thirds left that they can sell, export or keep for the next year,” said Kane. “The result is increased income for the farmer and more readily available products for consumers.” 


farmers provided feedback to researchers

Empowering Human and Institutional Capabilities

Another pillar of this project is to empower human and institutional capacities. Many of the scientists on this project are young scientists in Senegal who are trained and work at one time in the U.S. This is a reflection of the desire of SMIL to train young scientists to conduct research and make a positive impact in their own countries.

Dr. Timothy Dalton, director of SMIL, said, “I really appreciate that SMIL is pairing American expertise and ingenuity with the best and brightest globally, and training students in developing countries and the U.S. By doing that, we’re ensuring the next generation of food systems leaders are equipped and empowered to address the food security challenges that we know are coming tomorrow as well.” 

The partnership with SMIL and the National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) in Niger and Senegal addressed and supported the GENMIL project needs and provided resources to strengthen the research being conducted on a regional level. An example is the farming practices coping with disease or ecological factors are being added to the breeding product profile. All identified cultivars are integrated into local breeding programs and are evaluated on-farm for performance and their ability to scale. The involvement and mentoring of young scientists, as well as farmers and seed producers, will contribute to the goal of increased human and institutional capacity. This is essential to modernize and create sustainable breeding programs throughout West Africa.

The breeding program is dynamic, adjusting to demands and evolving as needs change. Kane added, “We have to think ahead on different challenges and demands. If you wait for something to happen, by the time you develop a product, the need has already changed. So the most challenging thing in the breeding program is to anticipate future demand and preference, and start the work now.”

This is another reason why equipping local scientists to work on projects like GENMIL is so important, and is not possible without supportive partnerships like SMIL.

CERAAS partners with nine USAID funded Feed the Future Innovation Labs, and Kane said, “The partnership we have with SMIL is one of a kind. SMIL was the first innovation lab that came to us and asked about the demands we wanted to address and how they could support us in meeting our goals. That made the partnership very beneficial and positive. It strengthened our ability to collaborate and achieve common goals. I hope that will be the case with future partnerships.”

Nat Bascom, assistant director of SMIL, summarizes it this way: “It boils down to how we can help the institution and the people within that environment grow. How do we help them develop as researchers and leaders? For the long-term, we will have helped West African researchers in their aspirations and long-term capacity to bring research to bear toward development goals in their country. That’s the legacy of a partnership like this.”

Pairing U.S. and West African Institutions Leads to Accelerated Breeding Breakthroughs

“We have to give credit to farmers. It’s their management systems and knowledge we are using to see how we can improve those practices and systems in combination with the new varieties we are proposing to them. We don’t want to propose something they do not want to use, so it is easier to ask them what they need. Each farmer brings their own knowledge and we add technical or scientific knowledge to move forward together.”

Dr. Ndjido Kane

Pairing U.S. and West African Institutions Leads to Accelerated Breeding Breakthroughs

For more details:

Genetic Enhancement of Pearl Millet for Yield, Biotic and Abiotic Stress Tolerance in West Africa (GENMIL)

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Morphomolecular and cultural characteristics and host range of Lasiodiplodia theobromae causing stem canker disease in dragon fruit


Preangka S. Briste,Abdul M. Akanda,Md. Abdullahil B. Bhuiyan,Nur Uddin Mahmud,Tofazzal Islam

First published: 31 January 2022


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Dragon fruit (Hylocereus polyrhizus) is an economically promising fruit in Bangladesh. The cultivation of dragon fruit has increased fourfold within a decade due to its popularity. Recently, a new disease known as stem canker was reported in some plantations of dragon fruit in Bangladesh, which forced some farmers to abandon their cultivation. This study aimed to explore the morphological, molecular, and cultural characteristics as well as host range of the causal agent associated with this destructive disease. Morphologically similar eight fungal isolates were recovered from eight canker symptomatic dragon fruit stems. Among them, two isolates (namely BU-DLa 01 and BU-DLa 02) were used for a detailed study. Morphological parameters and phylogeny of sequence data of internal transcribed spacer (ITS1, 5.8S rRNA, and ITS2), β-tubulin, and translation elongation factor 1-α identified the isolates as Lasiodiplodia theobromae. The cultural features were studied hinged on the growth of the two isolates on various media, temperature, and pH. Though the mycelial growth of the fungi was supported by all the media tested, potato dextrose agar was the most suitable one for both isolates. The fungi thrived well at a temperature of 25–35°C and 5.5–6.5 pH. Inoculation trials of dragon fruit stem ascertained Koch’s postulate. In host range test, the isolates were found pathogenic toward mango, guava, banana, and the fruits of dragon fruit. These data will contribute not only to understanding the biology of L. theobromae as a newly recognized pathogen of H. polyrhizus but also will help in designing a proper management package against this pathogen.

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