Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

LSU student identifies fungus causing soybean taproot decline

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is delta-f-perss.png

TAGS: CROP DISEASELSUGarciaArocajpg.jpgTeddy Garcia-Aroca, an LSU Ph.D. student, holds a sample of a fungus he found and named that causes the disease soybean taproot decline.Discovery just “tip of the iceberg” as scientists strive to learn more about this devastating soybean disease.

Bruce Shultz, Louisiana State University | Apr 13, 2021

An LSU graduate student has identified and named a new species of fungus that causes a devastating soybean disease. 

LSU doctoral student Teddy Garcia-Aroca identified and named the fungus Xylaria necrophora, the pathogen that causes soybean taproot decline. He chose the species name necrophora after the Latin form of the Greek word “nekros,” meaning “dead tissue,” and “-phorum,” a Greek suffix referring to a plant’s stalk. 

“It’s certainly a great opportunity for a graduate student to work on describing a new species,” said Vinson Doyle, LSU AgCenter plant pathologist and co-advisor on the research project. “It opens up a ton of questions for us. This is just the tip of the iceberg.” 

Taproot decline

The fungus infects soybean roots, causing them to become blackened while causing leaves to turn yellow or orange with chlorosis. The disease has the potential to kill the plant. 

“It’s a big problem in the northeast part of the state,” said Trey Price, LSU AgCenter plant pathologist who is Garcia-Aroca’s major professor and co-advisor with Doyle. 

“I’ve seen fields that suffered a 25% yield loss, and that’s a conservative estimate,” Price said. Heather Kellytaproot decline in soybeans

Yellowing leaves are early symptoms of taproot decline in soybeans.

Louisiana soybean losses from the disease total more than one million bushels per year. 

Price said the disease has been a problem for many years as pathologists struggled to identify it. Some incorrectly attributed it to related soybean diseases such as black-root rot. 

“People called it the mystery disease because we didn’t know what caused it.” 

Price said while Garcia-Aroca was working on the cause of taproot decline, so were labs at the University of Arkansas and Mississippi State University. 

Price said the project is significant. “It’s exciting to work on something that is new. Not many have the opportunity to work on something unique.” 

Research 

Garcia-Aroca compared samples of the fungus that he collected from infected soybeans in Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama with samples from the LSU Herbarium and 28 samples from the U.S. National Fungus Collections that were collected as far back as the 1920s. 

Some of these historical samples were collected in Louisiana sugarcane fields, but were not documented as pathogenic to sugarcane. In addition, non-pathogenic samples from Martinique and Hawaii were also used in the comparison, along with the genetic sequence of a sample from China. 

Garcia-Aroca said these historical specimens were selected because scientists who made the earlier collections had classified many of the samples as the fungus Xylaria arbuscula that causes diseases on macadamia and apple trees, along with sugarcane in Indonesia. But could genetic testing of samples almost 100 years old be conducted? “It turns out it was quite possible,” he said. 

DNA sequencing showed a match for Xylaria necrophora for five of these historical, non-pathogenic samples — two from Louisiana, two from Florida, and one from the island of Martinique in the Caribbean — as well as DNA sequences from the non-pathogenic specimen from China. All of these were consistently placed within the same group as the specimens causing taproot decline on soybeans. 

Why now? 

Garcia-Aroca said a hypothesis that could explain the appearance of the pathogen in the region is that the fungus could have been in the soil before soybeans were grown, feeding on decaying wild plant material, and it eventually made the jump to live soybeans. 

Arcoa’s study poses the question of why the fungus, after living off dead woody plant tissue, started infecting live soybeans in recent years. “Events underlying the emergence of X. necrophora as a soybean pathogen remain a mystery,” the study concludes. 

But he suggests that changes in the environment, new soybean genetics and changes in the fungal population may have resulted in the shift. 

The lifespan of the fungus is not known, Garcia-Aroca said, but it thrives in warmer weather of at least 80 degrees. Freezing weather may kill off some of the population, he said, but the fungus survives during the winter by living on buried soybean plant debris left over from harvest. It is likely that soybean seeds become infected with the fungus after coming in contact with infected soybean debris from previous crops. These hypotheses remain to be tested. 

Many of the fungal samples were collected long before soybeans were a major U.S. crop, Doyle said. “The people who collected them probably thought they weren’t of much importance.” 

Garcia-Aroca said this illustrates the importance of conducting scientific exploration and research as well as collecting samples from the wild. “You never know what effect these wild species have on the environment later on.” 

What’s next? Now that the pathogen has been identified, Price said, management strategies need to be refined. Crop rotation and tillage can be used to reduce incidence as well as tolerant varieties. 

“We’ve installed an annual field screening location at the Macon Ridge Research Station where we provide taproot decline rating information for soybean varieties,” Price said. “In-furrow and fungicide seed treatments may be a management option, and we have some promising data on some materials. However, some of the fungicides aren’t labeled, and we need more field data before we can recommend any.” 

He said LSU, Mississippi State and University of Arkansas researchers are collaborating on this front. 

Doyle said Garcia-Aroca proved his work ethic on this project. “It’s tedious work and just takes time. Teddy has turned out to be very meticulous and detailed.” 

The final chapter in Garcia-Aroca’s study, Doyle said, will be further research into the origins of this fungus and how it got to Louisiana. Source: Louisiana State University, which is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.  

Read Full Post »

“Beetles that pee themselves to death could be tomorrow’s pest control”

Various beetle species have gobbled through grain stores and weakened food production worldwide since ancient times. Now, researchers at the University of Copenhagen have discovered a better way of targeting and eliminating these teeny pests. Instead of using toxic pesticides that damage biodiversity, the environment, and human health, the researchers seek to exploit beetles’ greatest strength against them — their precisely regulated mechanism of balancing fluids.

Up to 25 percent of global food production is lost annually due to insects, primarily beetles. For the past 500 million years, beetles have successfully spread and adapted to life around the globe and now account for one of every five animal species on Earth. Yet as far back as ancient Egypt, these tough little bugs have invaded granaries and vexed humans by destroying crops.


Wheat weevils, confused flour beetles, Colorado potato beetles and other types of beetles and insects make their ways into up to 25 percent of the global food supply. Photo: Getty 

As a result, food production and abundant use of pesticides now go hand in hand. A large share of these pesticides damage biodiversity, the environment, and human health. As various pesticides are phased out, new solutions are required to target and eradicate pests without harming humans or beneficial insects like bees.

This is precisely what researchers from the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Biology are working on. As part of a broader effort to develop more “ecological” methods of combatting harmful insects in the near future, researchers have discovered which hormones regulate urine formation in the kidneys of beetles.

“Knowing which hormones regulate urine formation opens up the development of compounds similar to beetle hormones that, for example, can cause beetles to form so much urine that they die of dehydration,” explains Associate Professor Kenneth Veland Halberg of the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Biology. He adds:

“While it may seem slightly vicious, there’s nothing new in us trying to vanquish pests that destroy food production. We’re simply trying to do it in a smarter, more targeted manner that takes the surrounding environment into greater account than traditional pesticides.”

Ancient Egyptians weakened beetles’ water balance using stones
The new study, as well as a previous study, also conducted by Kenneth Veland Halberg, demonstrates that beetles solve the task of regulating their water and salt balance in a fundamentally different way than other insects. This difference in insect biology is an important detail when seeking to combat certain species while leaving their neighbors alone.

“Today’s insecticides go in and paralyze an insect’s nervous system. The problem with this approach is that insect nervous systems are quite similar across species. Using these insecticides leads to the killing of bees and other beneficial field insects, and harms other living organisms,” explains Kenneth Veland Halberg.

The centrality to survival of the carefully controlled water balance of beetles is no secret. In fact, ancient Egyptians already knew to mix pebbles in grain stores to fight these pests. Stones scratched away the waxy outer layer of beetles’ exoskeletons which serves to minimize fluid evaporation.

“Never mind that they chipped an occasional tooth on the pebbles, the Egyptians could see that the scratches killed some of the beetles due to the fluid loss caused by damage to the waxy layer. However, they lacked the physiological knowledge that we have now,” says Kenneth Veland Halberg.

One-hundred billion dollars of pesticides used worldwide
Pesticides have replaced pebbles. And, their global use is now valued at roughly 100 billion dollars annually. But as rules for pesticide use become stricter, farmers are left with fewer options to fight pests. 

“The incentive to develop compounds which target and eradicate pests is huge. Food production is critically dependent on pesticides. In Europe alone, it is estimated that food production would decline by 50 percent without pesticide use. With just a single, more targeted product on the market, there would almost immediately be immense gains for both wildlife and humans,” states Kenneth Veland Halberg.

But the development of new compounds to combat beetles requires, among other things, that chemists design a new molecule that resembles beetle hormones. At the same time, this compound must be able to enter beetles, either through their exoskeletons or by their feeding upon it.

“Understanding urine formation in beetles is an important step in developing more targeted and environmentally-friendly pest controls for the future. We are now in the process of involving protein chemistry specialists who can help us design an artificial insect hormone. But there is still a fair bit of work ahead before any new form of pest control sees the light of day,” concludes Associate Professor Kenneth Veland Halberg.

Read the complete research at www.pnas.org.

For more information:
University of Copenhagen
www.news.ku.dk 

Read Full Post »

ToBRFV resistant tomatoes

In 2020, Enza Zaden announced the discovery of the tomato brown rugose fruit virus (ToBRFV) High Resistance gene, a complete solution for ToBRFV. Since the announcement, we’ve worked hard with resistant trials material achieving excellent results. “We see no symptoms at all in the plants, while the disease pressure is very high,” says Oscar Lara, Senior Tomato Product Specialist, about the first trials in Mexico.

No symptoms at all
At the Enza Zaden trial location in Mexico, the high resistance (HR) varieties are placed next to susceptible ones. There you can clearly see the difference. The susceptible tomato varieties show different foliage disorders such as a yellow mosaic pattern. The affected plants also stay behind in growth.

“You can clearly see how well our high resistant varieties withstand ToBRFV,” says Oscar Lara. “In comparison to the plants of susceptible varieties, the resistant ones look very healthy with a dark green colour, show no symptoms at all and have good growth. All our trialled HR tomato varieties do not show any symptoms at all.”

Exciting news
Enza Zaden is running parallel tests in different countries with varieties with high resistance to ToBRFV. “Our trials in Europe, North America, and the Middle East show that we have qualitatively good tomato cultivars with a confirmed high resistance level,” says Kees Könst, Crop research Director. “This is exciting news for all parties involved in the tomato growing industry. We know there is a lot at stake for our customers, so we continue to work hard to make HR varieties available for the market. We expect to have these ready in the coming years,” says Könst.

High performing and high resistance
Enza Zaden has a long history in breeding tomatoes. “We have an extended range of tomato varieties, from large beef to tasty vine tomatoes (truss tomatoes) and from baby plum tomatoes to pink varieties for the Asian market. This basis of high performing varieties combined with the gene we discovered, will enable us to deliver the high performing varieties with high resistance to ToBRFV.”

Why is a high resistance level so critical?
“With an intermediate resistance (IR) level, the virus propagation is delayed but ToBRFV can still enter tomato plants – plants that may eventually show symptoms,” says Könst. “With a high resistance level, plants and fruits do not host the virus at all. This means they won’t be a source for spreading the virus and that the detection test will come back negative. Growing a variety with high resistance can be the difference between making a profit or losing the crop.”For more information Enza Zadeninfo@enzazaden.com
www.enzazaden.com

Publication date: Tue 13 Apr 2021

Read Full Post »

GarciaArocajpg.jpg

Teddy Garcia-Aroca, an LSU Ph.D. student, holds a sample of a fungus he found and named that causes the disease soybean taproot decline.Discovery just “tip of the iceberg” as scientists strive to learn more about this devastating soybean disease.

Bruce Shultz, Louisiana State University | Apr 13, 2021

An LSU graduate student has identified and named a new species of fungus that causes a devastating soybean disease. 

LSU doctoral student Teddy Garcia-Aroca identified and named the fungus Xylaria necrophora, the pathogen that causes soybean taproot decline. He chose the species name necrophora after the Latin form of the Greek word “nekros,” meaning “dead tissue,” and “-phorum,” a Greek suffix referring to a plant’s stalk. https://f51f4f44a38d9cb02edf74f97f4f06e6.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

“It’s certainly a great opportunity for a graduate student to work on describing a new species,” said Vinson Doyle, LSU AgCenter plant pathologist and co-advisor on the research project. “It opens up a ton of questions for us. This is just the tip of the iceberg.” 

Taproot decline

The fungus infects soybean roots, causing them to become blackened while causing leaves to turn yellow or orange with chlorosis. The disease has the potential to kill the plant. 

“It’s a big problem in the northeast part of the state,” said Trey Price, LSU AgCenter plant pathologist who is Garcia-Aroca’s major professor and co-advisor with Doyle. 

“I’ve seen fields that suffered a 25% yield loss, and that’s a conservative estimate,” Price said. Heather Kellytaproot decline in soybeans

Yellowing leaves are early symptoms of taproot decline in soybeans.

Louisiana soybean losses from the disease total more than one million bushels per year. 

Price said the disease has been a problem for many years as pathologists struggled to identify it. Some incorrectly attributed it to related soybean diseases such as black-root rot. 

“People called it the mystery disease because we didn’t know what caused it.” 

Price said while Garcia-Aroca was working on the cause of taproot decline, so were labs at the University of Arkansas and Mississippi State University. 

Price said the project is significant. “It’s exciting to work on something that is new. Not many have the opportunity to work on something unique.” 

Research 

Garcia-Aroca compared samples of the fungus that he collected from infected soybeans in Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama with samples from the LSU Herbarium and 28 samples from the U.S. National Fungus Collections that were collected as far back as the 1920s. 

Some of these historical samples were collected in Louisiana sugarcane fields, but were not documented as pathogenic to sugarcane. In addition, non-pathogenic samples from Martinique and Hawaii were also used in the comparison, along with the genetic sequence of a sample from China. 

Garcia-Aroca said these historical specimens were selected because scientists who made the earlier collections had classified many of the samples as the fungus Xylaria arbuscula that causes diseases on macadamia and apple trees, along with sugarcane in Indonesia. But could genetic testing of samples almost 100 years old be conducted? “It turns out it was quite possible,” he said. 

DNA sequencing showed a match for Xylaria necrophora for five of these historical, non-pathogenic samples — two from Louisiana, two from Florida, and one from the island of Martinique in the Caribbean — as well as DNA sequences from the non-pathogenic specimen from China. All of these were consistently placed within the same group as the specimens causing taproot decline on soybeans. 

Why now? 

Garcia-Aroca said a hypothesis that could explain the appearance of the pathogen in the region is that the fungus could have been in the soil before soybeans were grown, feeding on decaying wild plant material, and it eventually made the jump to live soybeans. 

Arcoa’s study poses the question of why the fungus, after living off dead woody plant tissue, started infecting live soybeans in recent years. “Events underlying the emergence of X. necrophora as a soybean pathogen remain a mystery,” the study concludes. 

But he suggests that changes in the environment, new soybean genetics and changes in the fungal population may have resulted in the shift. 

The lifespan of the fungus is not known, Garcia-Aroca said, but it thrives in warmer weather of at least 80 degrees. Freezing weather may kill off some of the population, he said, but the fungus survives during the winter by living on buried soybean plant debris left over from harvest. It is likely that soybean seeds become infected with the fungus after coming in contact with infected soybean debris from previous crops. These hypotheses remain to be tested. 

Many of the fungal samples were collected long before soybeans were a major U.S. crop, Doyle said. “The people who collected them probably thought they weren’t of much importance.” 

Garcia-Aroca said this illustrates the importance of conducting scientific exploration and research as well as collecting samples from the wild. “You never know what effect these wild species have on the environment later on.” 

What’s next? 

Now that the pathogen has been identified, Price said, management strategies need to be refined. Crop rotation and tillage can be used to reduce incidence as well as tolerant varieties. 

“We’ve installed an annual field screening location at the Macon Ridge Research Station where we provide taproot decline rating information for soybean varieties,” Price said. “In-furrow and fungicide seed treatments may be a management option, and we have some promising data on some materials. However, some of the fungicides aren’t labeled, and we need more field data before we can recommend any.” 

He said LSU, Mississippi State and University of Arkansas researchers are collaborating on this front. 

Doyle said Garcia-Aroca proved his work ethic on this project. “It’s tedious work and just takes time. Teddy has turned out to be very meticulous and detailed.” 

The final chapter in Garcia-Aroca’s study, Doyle said, will be further research into the origins of this fungus and how it got to Louisiana. Source: Louisiana State University, which is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.  

Read Full Post »

ScienceNews

Bubble-blowing drones may one day aid artificial pollination

Flying machines could step in when bees and other insects are scarce, researchers say

drone pollinating flower with bubbles
Drones that blow bubbles to delicately deliver pollen to flowers (a peach-leaved bellflower, pictured) could help make up for dwindling populations of natural pollinators, like bees, researchers say. E. Miyako

Share this:

By Maria Temming

June 22, 2020 at 10:15 am

Drones that blow pollen-laden bubbles onto blossoms could someday help farmers pollinate their crops.

Rather than relying on bees and other pollinating insects — which are dwindling worldwide as a result of climate change (SN: 7/9/15), pesticide use (SN: 10/5/17) and other factors — farmers can spray or swab pollen onto crops themselves. But machine-blown plumes can waste many grains of pollen, and manually brushing pollen onto plants is labor-intensive.

Materials chemist Eijiro Miyako of the Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in Nomi imagines outsourcing pollination to automatous drones that deliver pollen grains to individual flowers. His original idea involved a pollen-coated drone rubbing grains onto flowers, but that treatment damaged the blossoms (SN: 3/7/17). Then, while blowing bubbles with his son, Miyako realized that bubbles might be a gentler means of delivery. 

To that end, Miyako and his colleague Xi Yang, an environmental scientist also at JAIST, devised a pollen-containing solution that a drone toting a bubble gun could blow onto crops. To test the viability of their pollen-loaded bubbles, the researchers used this technique to pollinate by hand pear trees in an orchard. Those trees bore about as much fruit as trees pollinated using a traditional method of hand pollination, the researchers report online June 17 in iScience.

Among various commercially available bubble solutions, Miyako and Yang found that pollen grains remained most healthy and viable in one made with lauramidopropyl betaine — a chemical used in cosmetics and personal care products. Using that solution as their base, the researchers added pollen-protecting ingredients, like calcium and potassium, along with a polymer to make the bubbles sturdy enough to withstand winds generated by drone propellers.

The researchers blew pollen bubbles at flowers on three pear trees in an orchard. On average, 95 percent of the 50 pollinated blossoms on each tree formed fruits. That was comparable to another set of three similar trees pollinated by hand with a standard pollen brush. Only about 58 percent of flowers on three trees that relied on insects and wind to deliver pollen bore fruit.

To test the feasibility of applying this bubble treatment with flying robots, Miyako and Yang armed a drone with a bubble gun and blew pollen bubbles at fake lilies while flying by at two meters per second. More than 90 percent of the lilies were hit with bubbles, but many more bubbles missed the blooms. Making drone pollination practical would require flying robots that can recognize flowers and deftly target specific blossoms, the researchers say.

Not everyone is convinced that building robotic pollinators is a good idea. Simon Potts, a sustainable land management researcher at the University of Reading in England, sees this technology as a “piece of smart engineering being shoehorned to solve a problem which can be solved in … more effective and sustainable ways.”

In 2018, Potts and colleagues published a study in Science of the Total Environment, arguing that protecting natural pollinators is a better way to safeguard plant pollination than building robotic bees. Insects, the researchers noted, are more adept pollinators than any machine and don’t disrupt existing ecosystems. Miyako and Yang say their bubble solution was biocompatible, but Potts worries that dousing flowers in human-made substances could dissuade insects from visiting those trees.  

Roboticist Yu Gu of West Virginia University in Morgantown, who designs robotic pollinators but was not involved in the new work, says that building robotic bees and supporting insect populations are not mutually exclusive. “We’re not hoping to take over for bees, or any other natural pollinator,” he says. “What we’re trying to do is complement them.” Where there is a shortage of winged workers to pollinate crops, farmers could one day use robots “as a Plan B,” he says. No pun intended.

Questions or comments on this article? E-mail us at feedback@sciencenews.org

Citations

X. Yang and E. Miyako. Soap bubble pollination. iScience. Published online June 17, 2020. doi: 10.1016/j.isci.2020.101188.

S.G. Potts et al. Robotic bees for crop pollination: Why drones cannot replace biodiversity. Science of the Total Environment. Vol. 642, November 15, 2018, p. 665. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.06.114.

Maria Temming

About Maria Temming

Maria Temming is the staff reporter for physical sciences, covering everything from chemistry to computer science and cosmology. She has bachelor’s degrees in physics and English, and a master’s in science writing.

Related Stories

  1. Agriculture Fleets of drones could pollinate future crops By Elizabeth EatonMarch 7, 2017
  2. Paleontology Pollination in the pre-flower-power era By Sid PerkinsNovember 5, 2009
  3. Animals Honeybees fumble their way to blueberry pollination

Read Full Post »

Deutsche Welle

Eco@Africa

Working with insects in Africa

The International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology in Kenya was founded in 1970 and aims to improve the lives and health of people in tropical Africa by focusing on harmful and useful arthropods.

We recently met with Dr. Sunday Ekesi from the center to discus their sustainability push throughout tropical Africa. The institute’s work is modeled around integrating human, animal, plant and environmental health issues. Its mission is to “help alleviate poverty, ensure food security and improve the overall health status of peoples of the tropics, by developing and extending management tools and strategies for harmful and useful arthropods.”

DW: How can insects benefit people?

Sunday Ekesi: There are certain insects that are parasitic and live on invasive ones. And by bringing in some of the parasitic ones that attack the bad ones — that is one very important aspect of what we call classical biological control to bring an insect that is damaging to a very minimal level by reuniting the good and the bad one in the environment so that the population is kept at the very very minimal level without harming our crops or without harming our livestock. Insects contribute in all these ways to help improve our economy.

DW eco@africa - Dr. Sunday Ekesi (DW)

Dr. Sunday Ekesi from Kenya’s International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology

 

Everybody knows that insects damage crops. In Africa is that on the increase or on the decrease?

That’s a very important question because the recent invasion of the fall armyworm on the continent gives you an indication that there is an increasing trend in terms of invasions of insects into the continent. Africa is not an exception. Invasions happen globally.

We are working with various governments and various institutions and donor agencies to help us address this.

But in order to minimize this there should be a need for a lot of involvement at the national level and private sectors so that we pick issues related to preparedness, contingency planning, best risk analysis and predictive modeling to be able to know that there are certain insects that are of danger to us and to begin to guard against such invasions. Because when you are taken unaware we begin to run helter-skelter. But if we are well prepared the chances are that the impact that this will have on the environment and the food security situation at large won’t be as severe as what we’re seeing now.

Take me through a specific example.

Tuta absoluta is believed to be native to Latin America and it first invaded Europe — I believe Spain — and it began to spread in Europe. From Europe it got into North Africa. Tunisia, Morocco and Sudan were all invaded and then it began to spread into sub-Saharan Africa up to southern Africa. What most probably happened is difficult to say exactly. But the most likely thing is the movement of produce around borders without proper quarantine or sanitary management facilities led to its easy movement.

Here it does not have its natural enemies, so it tends to explode. So we went to Peru to carry out an exploration for a natural enemy given that Latin America is believed to be the origin of this pest. Once you have the natural enemy the population begins to stabilize. So we embarked on that and we are beginning to work with national governments to release these parasites across Africa.

In addition to that we looked at a sustainable management measure that is based on a combination of control measures. Because if you rely too much on pesticides the tendency is that there are other beneficial organisms in addition to the one that we brought in that are supposed to keep the pest in check so that it does not grow to economic injury level. So we are looking at the possibility of introducing softer options such as the use of pesticides, the use of attractants, the use of traps and the use of intercropping the natural weeds. But if you apply too much pesticide, you kill the beneficiaries and the problem remains.

How has global warming impacted insect populations?

Because the temperature is warming, there is the tendency for insects to begin to move from warm areas to cool areas which changes distribution patterns. So climate change is also changing the context in terms of natural enemies — the interaction between the bad and the good ones.

This interview has been shortened and edited for clarity.

 

Read Full Post »

T. S. Park et al./Nature Communications, 10.1038

This ancestor of today’s insects, spiders, and crustaceans had a simple brain, but complex eyes

Although it’s hard to believe that delicate nervous tissues could persist for hundreds of millions of years, that’s exactly what happened to the brains and eyes of some 15 ancestors of modern-day spiders and lobsters, called Kerygmachela kierkegaardi (after the famous philosopher Søren Kierkegaard). Found along the coast of north Greenland, the 518-million-year-old fossils contained enough preserved brains and eyes to help researchers write a brand-new history of the arthropod nervous system.

Until now, many biologists had argued that ancient arthropods—which gave rise to today’s insects, spiders, and crustaceans—had a three-part brain and very simple eyes. Compound eyes, in which the “eye” is really a cluster of many smaller eyes, supposedly evolved later from a pair of legs that moved into the head and was modified to sense light.

But these new fossils, which range from a few centimeters to 30 centimeters long, had a tiny, unsegmented brain, akin to what’s seen in modern velvet worms, researchers report today in Nature Communications. Despite the simple brain, Kerygmachela’s eyes were probably complex, perhaps enough to form rudimentary images. The eyes, indicated by shiny spots in the fossil’s small head, appear to be duplicated versions of the small, simple eyes seen today in soft, primitive arthropods called water bears and velvet worms.

Read Full Post »

This legless insect can jump 30 times its body length

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA—U.S. figure skater Nathan Chen may wow crowds with his endless quadruple jumps, but the Olympic hopeful can’t hold a candle to the legless gall midge larva (Asphondylia sp). The 3-millimeter-long larva—which startled scientists when it started hopping out of its lab dishes—plants its rear end on the ground, slides its head toward its nether regions, and latches its body into a loop, which it then flattens by shifting fluids inside its body. After enough pressure builds up, the midge releases the latch, straightens, and flies into the air at 1 meter per second for a jump as much as 30 times its body length. On a human scale, that distance would be 60 meters. (Consider: The current long jump record is less than 9 meters, with a running start.) Researchers discovered the feat with super–high-speed video cameras that shot 20,000 frames per second. The secret to the midge’s success is power amplification—the ability to build up force and then release it all at once, they report here today at the annual meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology. It’s like an archer pulling back a bowstring, temporarily storing the energy for shooting the arrow in the elastic string. No one knows yet why the midge larva jumps—until it matures into a fly, it never leaves its home, an abnormal growth on a type of goldenrod called silverrod. But documenting its Olympian performance could help scientists understand the movements of similar larval flies—and design better robots.

Read Full Post »

Reuters

December 6, 2017

Rats join mosquitoes as targets for ‘gene drive’ pest control

LONDON (Reuters) – Rodents have joined mosquitoes in the cross-hairs of scientists working on a next-generation genetic technology known as “gene drive” to control pests.

FILE PHOTO: A rat eats pieces of bread thrown by tourists near the Pont-Neuf bridge over the river Seine in Paris, France, August 1, 2017. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann/File Photo

Researchers in Scotland said on Tuesday they had developed two different ways to disrupt female fertility in rats and mice, building on a similar approach that has already been tested in the lab to eliminate malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

So-called gene drives push engineered genes through multiple generations by over-riding normal biological processes, so that all offspring carry two copies. Usually, animals would receive one copy of a gene from the mother and one from the father.

The technique is extremely powerful but also controversial, since such genetically engineered organisms could have an irreversible impact on the ecosystem.

Concerns about the proliferation of mutant species have led some to call for a gene drive ban, but Bruce Whitelaw of the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute believes that would be short sighted.

“A moratorium would prevent the research which is required for us to understand if and how this can be used in an advantageous way for our society,” he told reporters in London.

“We need to have an understanding of what gene drive can do and how it can be controlled so that decisions are based on knowledge rather than fear.”

A key appeal of a gene drive is its durable effect on pests, whether they are disease-carrying insects or crop-eating rodents. And since relatively small numbers of animals would need to be released initially, it is likely to be quite cheap.

It also offers a humane way to eliminate unwanted populations of sentient mammals like rats, which are typically killed with poison and traps.

Still, researchers agree more work is needed on the risks and potential unintended consequences of release of such animals.

Whitelaw and his colleagues, who published details of their rodent work in the journal Trends in Biotechnology, hope as a next step to build self-limiting gene drives that would burn out after a certain number of generations.

If their approach is successful, the gene drives could potentially be applied to help control a range of other non-insect pest species, such as rabbits, mink and cane toads.

 Currently, an older approach called “sterile insect technology” is being used in some areas to fight mosquitoes. Intrexon’s Oxitec unit has already deployed its sterile male mosquitoes, whose offspring die when young, in Brazil. But because Oxitec’s mosquitoes last only one generation, a vast number must be released to swamp their wild counterparts.

 

Existing approaches to fighting pests, particularly mosquitoes, have so far shown mixed success, with insecticide resistance increasing in many parts of the world and drugmakers struggling to develop good vaccines against complex diseases such as dengue.

Reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by Mark Potter

Read Full Post »

miniaturerobots_111417

 

Mini Robots Could Cut Pesticide Use, Food Waste, and Help Harvests


UNITED KINGDOM – Could miniature robots be joining the ranks of farmhands around the globe? According to The Guardian, yes, but optimistically, not for another couple of years. Developing in laboratories now, academic farming experts are researching whether miniature robots are a solution to chemical use, food waste, and labor shortages on farms, and posit that while a possible solution, mini robots might not be the answer farmers are seeking yet.

As reported by the source, current blanket practices waste 95% to 99% of pesticides and herbicides as the method “blankets” chemicals across entire fields, allowing pests and weeds to grow resistant, harming helpful pollinators like bees, and essentially rendering the chemicals ineffective over time.
Toby Bruce, Professor of Insect Chemical Ecology, Keele University

Toby Bruce, Professor of Insect Chemical Ecology, Keele University“Farmers have been heavily reliant for decades on the heavy use of pesticides. Some spraying is very desperate,” said Toby Bruce, Professor of Insect Chemical Ecology at Keele University, according to The Guardian. “Farmers are spraying [chemicals] to which there is resistance. They will not be killing pests as the pests have evolved resistance. They will be killing other insects [such as pollinators].”
In order to reduce pesticide waste and its harmful side effects, researchers are programming the robots to be able to apply tiny quantities of pesticides directly to the plants that need them.
Robots aiding in farming a cabbage field

Robots aiding in farming a cabbage field

The robots are also able to detect when fruit and vegetables are too small or malformed to be harvested. Because malformed produce typically has a lower market value, this would help reduce food waste and allow produce enough time to be harvested when it is ready.
With labor shortages worrying farmers worldwide, the mini robots could also provide the extra hands needed to harvest crops in the field. And this isn’t the only place in our industry seeking extra help from artificial intelligence. Last month, Giant Foods stores piloted Marty, and Walmart began testing shelf-scanning robots in over fifty stores.
While robots seem to be an easy solution, The Guardian reported that the technology is not at an advanced enough stage to implement in the field just yet, and noted that start-ups are needed to spearhead this innovation as many farm technology companies are unwilling to give up their current business models.
With technology advancing every day and offering different ways to rid pests and minimize waste, are mini robots the future of sustainable farming? AndNowUKnow will continue to report on the robot takeover.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »