EU: List of invasive species

Radio Parharaha


EU proposes to enlarge list of invasive species

The European Union is poposing to extend its list of invasive plants and animals, some of which have been intensively spreading in the Czech Republic in recent years.

Red-eared terrapin, photo: Magnus Manske, CC BY 2.0

Red-eared terrapin, photo: Magnus Manske, CC BY 2.0

Red-eared terrapin, spiny-cheek crayfish or Persian hogweed – these are just some of the numerous invasive species which have been introduced to Europe in recent decades, presenting a danger to the local environment. The European Union is now proposing to extend its list of alien species, some of which have been intensively spreading in the Czech Republic.

In the summer of 2016, the European Commission took an important step in fighting alien species, adopting a list of 37 invasive plants and animals that require joint action across the whole of Europe. Another twelve species were added to the list in August this year and the European Union is already working on another update.

The Czech Republic belongs among EU member states worst hit by invasive plants and animals. Jan Šíma, Director of the Department of Species Protection at the Ministry of the Environment lists some of the main offenders:

“In the case of plants, such as hogweed or Asian knotweed, we try to limit their occurrence, either by chopping the plants or by eradicating them with herbicides.

“Alien animal species can be captured and their population gradually reduced. But in some cases, nothing can be done but prevent the animals from getting to our country.

“Once they are here, it is often too late, especially in the case of aquatic species, which are very difficult to remove from their environment. So in this case it is essential to prevent their further spreading.”

Many of the plants and animals recently added to the EU list of dangerous invasive species, such as hogweed, have caused significant damage to the Czech environment. Jan Šíma outlines some of the newly added species:

'Tree of heaven', photo: Luis Fernández García L. Fdez., CC BY-SA 2.1 es

Tree of heaven’, photo: Luis Fernández García L. Fdez., CC BY-SA 2.1 es

“Among the plants, it is the hogweed, or the so-called Policeman’s Helmet. Among animals, it is the raccoon dog, a predator, which has been devastating populations of small animals and birds.”

“And then there are some less problematic species, such as Nile goose, which has started to occasionally nest on our territory, or the muskrat, which creates more problems in the warmer regions of Europe, where its populations are stronger. But even here the muskrat can cause damage, for instance to flood protections on dams.”

Among the species proposed to be added to the EU list of invasive plants and animals is the so-called tree of heaven, a deciduous tree from Asia, which has been intensively spreading across the Czech Republic in recent years.

The tree grows very quickly and can rapidly out-compete native trees and shrubs. The sap and wet sawdust of this tree can also trigger allergic reactions in some people.

Another newcomer to the list could be the American mink, a predator with a devastating impact on local river wildlife, affecting both fish and water birds.


Invasive plants change ecosystems from the bottom up

Researcher says Phragmites ‘farm’ their own soil communities

September 5, 2017
University of Rhode Island
Even when two different Phragmite lineages are grown side-by-side in the same ecosystem, the bacterial communities in the soil differ dramatically. This is a discovery that will aid in understanding how plant invasions get started and the conditions necessary for their success.

In a common garden at the University of Rhode Island, Laura Meyerson has been growing specimens of Phragmites — also known as the common reed — that she has collected from around the world. And while they are all the same species, each plant lineage exhibits unique traits.

Now Meyerson, a professor of natural resources sciences, and Northeastern University Professor Jennifer Bowen have revealed that even when two different lineages grow side-by-side in the same ecosystem, the bacterial communities in the soil differ dramatically. It’s a discovery that will aid in understanding how plant invasions succeed and the conditions necessary for their success.

“It’s almost like the different lineages are farming their own microbial communities,” said Meyerson. “What’s amazing is that an invasive Phragmites population in Rhode Island and California will have microbial communities more similar than a native and invasive population living right next to each other in Rhode Island.”

The Phragmites lineage native to North America has inhabited local wetlands for thousands of years, but a lineage introduced from Europe has begun to take over many North American marshes.

“I’m interested in bacteria within salt marshes, but I’ve never thought about these particular plant-microbe interactions and how microbes in the soil work to both facilitate plant success and inhibit growth,” said Bowen. “But it turns out that the evolutionary signatures of the different plant lineages are so strong that it results in similar microbial communities in related plants that are found across the country. And that’s incredible.”

In a research paper published this week in the journal Nature Communications, Meyerson and Bowen outline their field surveys and controlled experiments on native, invasive and Gulf of Mexico lineages of Phragmites. Both methods found that the bacterial communities in the soil are primarily structured by plant lineage rather than by environmental factors, as was previously thought.

“These findings go against the general dogma that says that the environment determines the microbial community you’re going to get,” Meyerson said. “Two populations growing close to each other should have microbial communities more similar than those living farther apart. But our results say that’s not true. In this case for these plants, it’s the plant lineage — below even the species level — that determines the microbial community.”These results are important for understanding more about the success and fitness of invasive species.

“Microbes are really important in terms of determining what happens in a plant community,” explained Meyerson. “By selecting for particular microbial communities, they’re engineering their ecosystem from the bottom up. What happens at the microbial level affects the fitness and chemistry of the plants, and that affects plant interactions.”

The researchers noticed that the microbes associated with the native Phragmites had more kinds of bacteria that are used to defend the plant from enemy attackers than the microbes associated with the invasive variety, which left most of its enemies behind in its native environment.

“The invasive plants didn’t need to cultivate these defense mechanisms among their microbial communities,” Bowen said. “What our research shows is that these plants are successful as invaders, in part, because they are freed from the need to cultivate a microbial defense shield.”

Meyerson said her results provide a new perspective for those managing land and trying to control invasive plants.

“It’s another reason to be cautious about invasive species,” she said. “We have to look beyond what’s going on above ground. We also have to look below at the microbial communities and how they affect ecosystems from the bottom up.”

Story Source:

Materials provided by University of Rhode Island. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Jennifer L. Bowen, Patrick J. Kearns, Jarrett E. K. Byrnes, Sara Wigginton, Warwick J. Allen, Michael Greenwood, Khang Tran, Jennifer Yu, James T. Cronin, Laura A. Meyerson. Lineage overwhelms environmental conditions in determining rhizosphere bacterial community structure in a cosmopolitan invasive plant. Nature Communications, 2017; 8 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-00626-0

Bangladesh: GMO Eggplant


Video: How insect-resistant Bt GMO eggplant rescued Bangladesh’s staple crop


[Editor’s note: Pamela Ronald is plant pathologist and geneticist. She is a professor in the Genome Center and the Department of Plant Pathology at the University of California Davis.]

Eggplants are the most important vegetable crop in Bangladesh, India. Serious pests in the region have the ability to destroy an entire eggplant crop, so farmers fight back by heavily spraying insecticide. Many of these insecticides are unregulated and very dangerous, resulting in illness and death to those who come in contact with the chemicals. Pamela Ronald explains in this episode of Startalk (a podcast hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson) how Bangladeshi and Cornell scientists teamed together to fight pests by developing GMO eggplants.

The GLP aggregated and excerpted this article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion and analysis. Read full, original post: Genetic engineering saved the Bangladeshi eggplant industry

Secrets of Photosynthesis


Scientists Unlock Secrets of Photosynthesis

Photosynthesis is one of the most important biological processes in the world. It works by using photosynthetic reaction centers (RC) — specialized membrane proteins — which collect the energy from light and use it to pump electrons across a biological membrane from one cellular electron carrier to another, resulting in the conversion of electromagnetic into chemical energy, which can be used by organisms.

A team of scientists from Arizona State University (ASU) and Pennsylvania State University has taken a step closer to unlocking the secrets of photosynthesis. The research team believes that the first reaction center was simpler than the versions available today. In terms of the protein structure, it was a homodimer — that is, two copies of the same polypeptide came together to form a symmetric structure. The reaction centers whose structures we know are all heterodimers in which this inherent symmetry has been broken, although at their heart they still retain the vestiges of the original symmetric architecture.

The research showed the first homodimeric RC structure and it sheds light in several ways on what the ancestral RC may have looked like. The overall architecture of the protein is very similar to photosystems of plants and cyanobacteria and the RC of the purple sulfur bacteria.

More details are available at ASU Now.



CAAS Scientists Develop GE Cabbage Resistant to Diamondback Moth

Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences researchers successfully incorporated a Bt gene into cabbage plants to improve resistance to destructive pest, diamondback moth (Plutella xylostella). The results of their study are published in Scientia Horticulturae.

The researchers used Agrobacterium tumefaciens-mediated transformation to develop transgenic cabbage plants with Bacillus thuringiensis cry1Ia8 gene. The resulting transgenic plants were able to control both susceptible and Cry1Ac-resistant diamondback moth larvae.Then they analyzed the expression and inheritance of the Bt gene in four single-copy lineages and their sexually derived progenies.

Results of the analyses showed that the transgene was successfully inserted in the genome of cabbage and the inheritance of the gene in the progenies followed the Mendelian segregation pattern. These results imply that the transgenic lines exhibiting stable inheritance can be used as donor in breeding programs for cabbage.

Read the research article for more information.

TC logo

Startups focus on the microbiome as an organic solution to increase crop yields


One of the multi-billion dollar problems facing the world these days is how to grow more food.

As the planet approaches adding another billion or more people, and as an increasing number of those people are wealthier than they’ve been before, the question of where our food comes from and how we raise it becomes more than an academic discussion, as farming is 10 percent of the world economy.

Venture investors, who are never known to shy away from throwing money at technological solutions for multi-billion dollar problems, have increasingly been turning their attention to the ag market.

These bets encompass everything from big data technologies to new sensing equipment, and… now… the study of the microbial life that surrounds all the things that grow in the dirt.

Biome science (as Vinod Khosla has told me) is an incredibly exciting area for investors to pursue, and one of the prime beneficiaries of this attention is a company in St. Louis called NewLeaf Symbiotics.

In fact, St. Louis is an emerging hub for all sorts of food and agricultural investment activity (a story for another time).

NewLeaf, which just closed on $6 million in new money to round out a $30 million round of funding, is one of a number of companies working at the forefront of agricultural technology research into the plant biome.

“There are going to be multiple winners in the category. It’s such a broad area,” says Sanjeev Krishnan, a managing director of S2G Ventures, an agriculture and food-focused fund whose main investor is the Walton family. “There are more things living under soil than on the surface of the entire planet, [so] there’s a lot of opportunity to figure out causality.”

For NewLeaf, the discovery of a bacteria that is found on pretty much everything that grows in the soil was the “eureka” moment that led to the company’s commercialization of technologies to ensure aspects of crop health.

It’s also what attracted S2G Ventures and The Yard, a fund comprised of Harvard alums that invest in companies with a connection to the university (in this case, the CFO is a Harvard graduate).

NewLeaf’s new round comes at a critical time for the company. It’s tripled the size of its R&D facility in St. Louis and is about to bring its first products to market.

The company’s first magic microbe is an additive to soybean seeds called rhizobia, and their second is a treatment for peanuts. Both are designed to make the seeds more resistant to disease and better able to withstand certain environmental conditions.

What makes all of this so compelling to both investors and big ag companies is the fact that none of these treatments involve genetic modification.

The bacteria are naturally occurring, and part of the special sauce to NewLeaf’s tech is the company’s index of thousands of different bacteria and their effects on plants, according to chief executive Tom Laurita.

“These bacteria are cost-free to the plant, because they use biological byproducts,” he says. “In some cases the bacteria are protection against a disease or predation. There might be a disease that an insect could turn into a viral disease in a particular plant, but bacteria could make that microbial disease harmless.

As S2G joins the company’s cap table, Laurita says it’s yet another sign that the technology is maturing and that companies from Monsanto (an earlier investor) to Walmart (through the Walton family’s fund) are recognizing the benefits of biome science.

“We’re at this nexus between the ag industry looking for cutting edge innovative, natural sustainable products and the consumer looking for the same thing,” Laurita tells me. “It’s the first time these two groups have invested in the same company. It’s a harbinger of how investment in ag and food might be changing.”

World Policy Blog

Stopping the Menace of the Fall Armyworm

By Esther Ngumbi

All over Africa, countries are battling fall armyworms. These crop-eating larval caterpillars are ravaging food supplies and posing major geopolitical challenges on the continent. Because the worms feed on over 80 plant species and develop into moths that can fly long distances, combating them requires coordinated, multi-pronged efforts.

Since 2016, fall armyworms have invaded over 20 African countries including Kenya, Ghana, and Ethiopia; damaged over 1.5 million hectares of land; and destroyed staple crops like corn, sorghum, and pasture grasses. As a result, many countries are expected to suffer from food insecurity both this year and next. Some farmers have attempted to use chemical pesticides to fight the worms, but they’ve proven ineffective. Unless the insects are systematically stopped, problems will only intensify.

Many research institutions and African countries, as well as the African Union and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have proposed and implemented sustainable control measures to contain outbreaks and stop them from spreading further. The FAO, for instance, has convened meetings in Harare, Nairobi, and Accra, bringing together government officials, scientists who specialize in fall armyworms, and representatives from Africa’s premier research institutions to formulate a region-wide framework for managing the infestation.

On the country level, Ghana has set up a national taskforce to monitor and detect early attacks on farms; to educate farmers about the pest; and to undertake research aimed at finding short- and long-term solutions, such as identifying appropriate pesticides and biological means of control. Kenya has also committed around $291,000 (SH 300 million) to fighting the spread of fall armyworms, and to awareness campaigns aimed at informing farmers about the rapidly spreading pest. In Ethiopia, the government has pledged just under $2 million (45 million birr) to the problem.

Efforts are underway to curb this flying menace, but they can go further.

First and foremost, African countries can learn to effectively manage the fall armyworm from North and South American countries that that have gone through similar invasions. Brazil, for example, has been successfully dealing with the pest for many years using biological control agents and resistant maize varieties.

Informational exchanges between these regions are already starting to happen. During the FAO meetings, experts from Brazil and the United States were invited to join African researchers and share some of the practices that have worked best in their own countries. The FAO should continue to reach out to experts and broaden this network. Similarly, the Center for Agriculture and BioScience International (CABI) in Wallingford, England, is planning to use lessons gleaned from Brazilian farmers to train African agricultural extension workers. These farmers, in turn, are expected to pass on the lessons to other African farmers.

Second, academic studies should also help African countries in their quest to find sustainable means of controlling the pests. For example, recent research from Auburn University, where I work, has shown that when applied as seed treatment, beneficial soil microbes can alter how and when fall armyworms lay eggs. This shows that microbial pesticides can be employed to fight fall armyworm invasions. African researchers should follow this lead, and look for similar solutions.

Third, countries need to continue to strengthen their national surveillance and forecasting capabilities, and coordinate their strategies for curbing the spread and impact of this destructive pest. At the same time, they need to come up with innovative ways of disseminating information about available and effective solutions.

Finally, as farmers prepare for the next planting season, there are simple practices that they can implement to reduce the impact of the fall armyworm. These include planting early to allow crops to mature before pest populations build up, planting diverse crops, and inter-cropping maize with plants like sunflowers and beans, which makes it harder for the armyworms to target the main host crop.

Of course, as countries rush to implement preventative measures and solutions, it is important to keep farmers in mind. Can farmers afford these solutions? Do they know enough about suggested management practices and how to implement them on their farms?

Battling the fall armyworm in Africa requires the participation and collaboration of all affected countries. At the same time, governments must continue to work with researchers to pursue lasting solutions, and help millions of people avoid food insecurity.



Esther Ngumbi is a post-doctoral researcher at the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology at Auburn University in Alabama. She serves as a 2017 Clinton Global University (CGI U) Mentor for Agriculture and is a 2015 Food Security New Voices Fellow at the Aspen Institute.

[Photo courtesy of USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab]