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Public support for gene drives in agriculture tied to limits

September 11, 2019
North Carolina State University
The first national survey inquiring about American attitudes toward agricultural gene drives shows more support for systems that are limited in scope and aimed at non-native insects.

The first national survey inquiring about American attitudes toward agricultural gene drives — genetic modification techniques that can be used to “drive” a genetic trait or characteristic through a given insect pest population to help commercial crop production by squelching harmful pest effects — shows more support for systems that are limited in scope and aimed at non-native insects.

The survey of more than 1,000 American adults, conducted by researchers at North Carolina State University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, can help inform further development of these gene drive systems in agriculture, an important consideration as the speed of technological development outpaces public understanding of the issues surrounding the technology.

Zack Brown, assistant professor of agricultural and resource economics at NC State and the corresponding author of a paper describing the research, said that people were more apt to support gene drive systems that controlled the spread of the drive. He added that respondents also more strongly favored gene drives targeting non-native species; they had a harder time supporting genetic changes to native insects. More than 50% of respondents supported controlled gene drive systems targeting non-native species.

Respondents also showed greater levels of support for gene drive systems that genetically alter an insect but leave it in the environment — taking away its ability to carry a pathogen causing a crop disease, for example — than systems meant to suppress or eradicate insect populations, although those differences were not large.

Nearly 50% of respondents opposed uncontrolled gene drive systems that would eliminate native species, with another 25% showing neither opposition nor support.

“This is valuable information for scientists because controllability is difficult to design in gene drive systems,” Brown said.

Other survey findings included increased opposition to gene drive systems among people who seek out food labeled non-genetically modified. Interestingly, though, their support exceeded opposition for limited gene drive systems targeting non-native species.

The research arose from a 2016 National Academies report that recommended gene drive research continue in parallel with ecological risk assessment and engagement with stakeholders and the public. Brown, lead author Michael Jones and coauthors realized that there was little to no published research on public perceptions of gene drive technology in an agricultural context.

“This is the right time — while the technology is still under development and before any release decisions have been made — to gain insights into what the public thinks, what types of information they prioritize from researchers, and who is trusted to carry out this sensitive research,” said Jones, an NC State Ph.D. candidate in agricultural and resource economics. “Proactively incorporating this feedback into technology design and risk assessment helps align the science with public values and the needs of diverse economic ecosystems.”

The process began with in-person, open-ended discussions about gene drive technologies and their possible uses and drawbacks with groups of consumers recruited from grocery stores. This method of conducting focus group discussions helped identify and distill the most important questions to be asked in the Web survey questionnaire.

Jason Delborne, associate professor of science, policy and society at NC State and co-author of the study, contributed to the design of the focus groups. “The focus groups provided a space for real conversations, where regular consumers learned about the potential for applying gene drives in agriculture and explored together their hopes and concerns. Inclusive deliberation about emerging technologies is a key foundation for responsible innovation,” he said.

The researchers used a Web-based questionnaire that allowed glimpses into how respondents interacted with information presented on gene drive systems and available FAQs. Jones said respondents spent a great deal of time looking through information when compared with other surveys.

“Maybe the fact that respondents went through a lot of research on our Web-based survey gave them a more nuanced perspective,” Brown says. “That seems to be reflected in the survey responses.”

The study also showed public perceptions on which organizations to trust with research into gene drive systems. Universities and the U.S. Department of Agriculture were the most trusted, with more than 60% calling those organizations very or somewhat trustworthy. Respondents were less trusting of foreign universities and the U.S. Dept. of Defense; small and large private companies were least trusted.

“The public wants a trusted body to be a leader here,” Brown said. “In this case, it’s American universities and the USDA.”

Story Source:

Materials provided by North Carolina State University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Michael Jones, Jason Delborne, Johanna Elsensohn and Zachary Brown, North Carolina State University; Paul Mitchell, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Does the US public support using gene drives in agriculture? And what do they want to know? Science Advances, 2019 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aau8462

From PestNet Community Digest

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Biosecurity NZ, Potatoes NZ ceased joint response to Potato mop-top virus

‘Fight to keep potato disease out of NZ is lost’

According to an article on ruralnewsgroup.co.nz, the fight to wipe out a potato disease from New Zealand has been lost. Biosecurity NZ and Potatoes NZ have announced that they have ceased their joint eradication response to Potato mop-top virus (PMTV). The industry says it will now be taking the lead on long-term management of the disease.

PMTV was confirmed in NZ in September 2018, initially concentrated in grower paddocks in Canterbury. But a national survey has shown the virus is now NZ-wide, indicating that it has been in NZ for a long time.

Sam Leske from Biosecurity NZ: “It became evident earlier during the response that this disease couldn’t be eradicated and that the best outcome for potato growers was industry management long term. Biosecurity NZ will continue to support industry in helping them develop the long term management plan, which will include non-regulatory controls and voluntary agreement.”

It’s the first time the two organisations have worked together on a biosecurity response since signing up to the Government Industry Agreement (GIA).

Potatoes NZ chief executive Chris Claridge says it was a successful end to the first joint response. The industry is developing a plan which will incorporate research from world experts, in line with best practice: “A positive outcome to date is there are no significant losses to growers attributed to the disease. This response is an example of how a good partnership between Government and industry works to eventually help industry to be in a position to mitigate impacts posed by biological incursions and to support decision-making for the future.”


Publication date:

From PestNet Community Digest


News Release 

Scientists alleviate environmental concerns about BCA usage on powdery mildews

American Phytopathological Society

IMAGE: The big photo shows cucumber leaves infected with powdery mildew, while the small close-up exhibits a few powdery mildew spores (from the powdery mildew colonies shown on the big photo),… view more 

Credit: Márk Z. Németh, Alexandra Pintye, Áron N. Horváth, Pál Vági, Gábor M. Kovács, Markus Gorfer, and Levente Kiss…

St. Paul, MN (September 2019)–Powdery mildew is a common fungal disease that infects many plants around the world, absorbing their nutrients and weakening or even killing them. In turn, powdery mildews are often attacked in the field by even smaller mycoparasites (fungi that feed on other fungi).

These mycoparasites penetrate the powdery mildews on the host plant surface and live inside of them, reducing or even stopping the harmful effects of the powdery mildew. Because of this, some strains of these mycoparasites (which belong to the genus Ampelomyces) are used as commercialized biocontrol agents (BCAs) of powdery mildews. There have been concerns about the environmental impact of the usage of these BCAs as little is known about the interactions between mycoparasites and powdery mildews.

To address environmental concerns, and to better understand these interactions, a group of scientists working at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, the Austrian Institute of Technology, and the University of Southern Queensland (Australia) genetically modified two strains of the mycoparasite to express Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP). As a result, the mycoparasites emit green light when examined with a fluorescence microscope, enabling researchers to better understand their structures and functions. This is the first study to explore these interactions with fluorescent protein biotechnology.

Their research revealed that these mycoparasites can live up to 21-days on mildew-free host plant surfaces, where they can attack powdery mildew structures as soon as they appear. Also of note, this research showed that these mycoparasites cannot spread in sterile soil or in decomposing leaves on the ground, showing that concerns about the potentially negative environmental impact of the BCAs are largely unsubstantiated.

These results, which can be found in “Green Fluorescent Protein Transformation Sheds More Light on a Widespread Mycoparasitic Interaction” published in the August issue of Phytopathology, present the first successful genetic transformation of a group of common mycoparasites that have also been used as a BCA of an important group of crop pathogens. They are important for both biocontrol studies of crop pathogens and the ecology of natural interfungal parasitic relationships.


About Phytopathology

For more than 100 years Phytopathology™ has been the premier international journal for publication of articles on fundamental research that advances understanding of the nature of plant diseases, the agents that cause them, their spread, the losses they cause, and measures used to control them. Articles are characterized by their novelty, innovativeness, and the hypothesis-driven nature of their research.

Follow us on Twitter @Phytopathologyj and visit https://apsjournals.apsnet.org/journal/phyto to learn more.

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.

From PestNet Community Digest


KAUST scientists wanted to know the factors that determine which bacteria associated with the roots of cultivated date palm trees. Credit: Ramona Marasco

Bacterial DNA sequencing analyses show date palms that are cultivated over a vast stretch of the Tunisian Sahara Desert consistently attract two types of growth-promoting bacteria to their roots, regardless of the location. This finding could help with improving crop cultivation in a warming climate.

Many factors influence which growth-promoting bacteria associate with , including , plant community diversity, applied and . Research conducted on shows that different types of wild plants attract different growth-promoting bacteria depending on their needs. Studies on conventional agricultural ecosystems have shown plant-root-bacteria associations vary according to the type of soil and the agricultural practices applied. Another KAUST study recently found that the roots of speargrass growing in the Tunisian desert aren’t picky at all: they attract whatever growth-promoting bacteria they can find in the surrounding resource-poor sand.

“But what happens in ecosystems where features of natural and agricultural environments converge, like in desert oases?” asks KAUST graduate Maria Mosqueira. “Under a climate change scenario, it is important to understand the role of microorganisms in arid ecosystems,” she explains.

Mosqueira, and colleagues working with Daniele Daffonchio, conducted microbiome analyses to identify the types of bacteria associated with the roots of cultivated Deglet Nour date palms in seven oases distributed over a vast 22,200 kilometer square stretch of the Tunisian Sahara Desert. The oases were located in contrasting environments: on the seacoast, in the mountains, among sand dunes and in the saline soil regions of the northern edge of the Tunisian Sahara Desert. Analyses of the ribosomal RNA gene were also conducted to test for the types of bacteria present in the surrounding sand/soil.

The team found that the Sahara palm tree roots consistently associated with two types of bacteria. Credit: Ramona Marasco

They found that the soil directly attached to the date palm roots was significantly modified compared to the surrounding “bulk” soil. And even though the dominant bacterial species in bulk soil varied from one location to another, date palm roots consistently chose to associate with the same two types of bacteria: Gammaproteobacteria and Alphaproteobacteria. These provide important services to the date palms—they promote the secretion of an important plant growth hormone and provide a protective effect against stresses like drought.

“We hope that our study will lead to other microbial ecology studies on desert oasis ecosystems; one of the most productive, yet unique, agroecosystems,” says Mosqueira.

The research group has several existing projects investigating and their associated microbiomes. A future focus will be to better understand the molecular interactions between plant roots and microbes as well as find ways to apply this knowledge to provide protective and nutritional services to agricultural crops grown in arid regions.

Explore further

Desert bacteria protect food crops from salt toxicity

More information: Maria J. Mosqueira et al. Consistent bacterial selection by date palm root system across heterogeneous desert oasis agroecosystems, Scientific Reports (2019). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-019-40551-4

Journal information: Scientific Reports

Bug smuggling

From PestNet Community Digest

National Geographic

Bug smuggling is big business

Demand for exotic pets and collectors’ items drives a flourishing illegal trade in beetles, spiders, and more.Saturday, 7 September 2019

By Jani Actman
Royce Cumming—one of dozens of vendors selling preserved insects at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles’s Bug Fair in May—displays his personal collection. It includes a goliath beetle, a blue morpho butterfly, and a Polyphemus moth.</p>


Special agent Ryan Bessey was in his office at the New Jersey branch of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in Galloway, on September 23, 2015, when he took a call from a colleague in the intelligence unit. The analyst told him that French customs officers had seized 115 emperor scorpions in two shipments from Cameroon. They were addressed to a man in Metuchen, New Jersey, named Wlodzimie Lapkiewicz.

If French authorities considered the bust important enough to tell the U.S. about it, Lapkiewicz was worth looking into, Bessey thought. He began to do some digging.

French customs officers seized orchid mantises from a shipment addressed to New Jersey resident Wlodzimie Lapkiewicz. The Southeast Asian insects masquerade as flowers to attract prey.

He discovered that Lapkiewicz had a track record in the U.S. too. Two months earlier, emperor scorpions and giant African millipedes from Tanzania had escaped from a package addressed to Lapkiewicz on a postal service delivery truck. (An exterminator killed the animals.)

Around the same time, Bessey says he learned that Lapkiewicz was selling spiders, millipedes, and emperor and dictator scorpions on Facebook. The criminal complaint alleges that Lapkiewicz was instructing suppliers to mislabel boxes to evade customs officers. “It showed this was part of an ongoing commercial enterprise,” Bessey says.

Lapkiewicz didn’t respond to multiple Facebook messages from National Geographic requesting an interview, and his lawyer didn’t respond to emails and a voicemail.

It’s illegal to import most insects and other arthropods, including spiders, scorpions, and millipedes, or their parts, into the U.S. without a permit from the Fish and Wildlife Service. The U.S. Department of Agriculture also requires a permit to bring in some live invertebrates. Emperor scorpions and dictator scorpions require special paperwork because they’re listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an international agreement that regulates cross-border sales of species.

Then three years later, in 2018, U.S. customs officers in Indiana seized about a dozen giant African millipedes from a Lapkiewicz-bound package labeled “Plush Toys for my Friends Child about to be born,” according to the criminal complaint. A couple of weeks after that, wildlife inspectors at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport opened a shipment addressed to Lapkiewicz to find 245 small cylinders containing the egg sacs of orchid mantises, pink and white insects from Southeast Asia that look like flower petals.

In August 2018 the U.S. District attorney’s office charged Lapkiewicz with smuggling wildlife and false labelling—federal crimes that carry a collective maximum of 25 years in prison. Lapkiewicz pleaded guilty to smuggling wildlife only. He was sentenced on July 2, 2019, to six months home confinement and four years probation.

“I knew at the time that there was a market for invertebrates,” says Bessey, who had worked as an agent for five years before investigating Lapkiewicz. “I really didn’t realise how large the market was until this case.”

Cockroaches—“great pets”

Demand for what most of us may think of as creepy crawlies—live as exotic pets or preserved as collectors’ treasures—has fueled a massive trade in everything from beetles and stick insects to tarantulas and scorpions. People even want cockroaches, the creature that once made me flee my apartment for 24 hours after finding one skittering around the shower. They make “great pets,” says Carlos Martinez, the owner of Reptile Factory, a pet shop based in Southern California.

Many insects and other arthropods are captive bred or otherwise sold in accordance with the law, but a global black market flourishes alongside the legal trade. It’s a little known corner of the illegal wildlife trade, a multibillion-dollar industry associated more with rhino horn and elephant ivory than the tiny creatures that can terrify us.

“A lot of things you find in the trade haven’t been legally exported from the area of origin or legitimately imported from the destination country,” says Stéphane De Greef, an environmental engineer and insect enthusiast from Belgium who runs a popular entomology group on Facebook. “It’s sadly very common.”

News stories of bug skulduggery abound. Take, for example, the Czech national fined in 2017 for attempting to smuggle 4,226 beetles, scorpions, spiders, and other invertebrates out of Australia. And the 7,000 spiders, insects, and other invertebrates stolen from the Philadelphia Insectarium and Butterfly Pavillion last year in a suspected attempt to sell them into the pet trade.

There’s no centralised database of seizures, which means there’s no way to estimate the global scale of the illegal trade. But Fish and Wildlife Service data obtained by National Geographic show that authorities in the U.S., a major demand country, seized at least 9,000 live and dead arthropods (not including crustaceans) that were being brought into the country for commercial purposes between June 2018 and June 2019. This likely represents a fraction of the total number of smuggled arthropods, which are easy to conceal in suitcases and shipping boxes.

Many countries ban or require special permits for the capture and export of certain species or species in particular areas, such as national parks, but that hasn’t stopped people from snatching little critters from the wild. Some people take them to keep or study. Others collect them to sell regionally as food. When it comes to the global commercial trade, poaching afflicts tropical countries in particular, where warmth and a plentiful food supply give rise to jumbo-size insects that explode with colour. Buyers around the world are willing to pay hundreds, even thousands, of dollars apiece for the rarest, flashiest, or otherwise most distinctive creature to breed or display alive or framed in their living rooms.

Scientists worry about the effects of the collecting craze on these small animals, which can be vital to food chains by pollinating crops and recycling nutrients back into the soil. “Whenever you take a large-scale collection of a single species and you extirpate it, or remove it, from an environment, you’re going to impact that ecosystem in one way or another,” says Floyd Shockley, who manages the insect collection at the National Museum of Natural History, in Washington, D.C.

Going to the fair

If there’s anyone who knows about the market for invertebrates, it’s Brent Karner. He’s the division manager for BioQuip Bugs, a company based in Rancho Dominguez, California, that offers preserved and live insects and other arthropods.

I caught up with Karner in May at the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History, where we both attended the Bug Fair, a two-day event celebrating anything and everything creepy crawly. I’ve spent most of my life avoiding insects, but I came to the Bug Fair to meet the people who can’t get enough of them.

More than 50 vendors occupying three museum wings were offering everything from edible worms (they taste like dried shrimp, the seller told me) to T-shirts with insect-inspired humour (“don’t kill my buzz”). But most people came for the thousands of invertebrates crawling around glass tanks or pinned inside display cases.

Adults dressed as a bee, a butterfly, and a cockroach perform a play for kids at the Bug Fair. Fear of insects can begin early. Their bad reputation has led to paltry funding for the field of entomology.

Karner was selling the latter. His booth was so popular that it was hard to steal him away from the throngs of fairgoers ogling the palm-size Hercules beetles, orange-and-brown lantern flies, and other creatures for sale.

I had heard from scientists and hobbyists that BioQuip is the gold standard for sourcing insects in an ethical and legal way. Gregarious and goateed, Karner tells me that he prides himself on doing just that. That means making sure his suppliers have secured the proper permits in their countries and that he has the legal paperwork to bring them into the country. It also means buying no more than a hundred insects of the same species from any one location in a year—and staying away from Europe altogether. Because regulations are weak in some countries, he says, “Europe is a great conduit to get illegal things out, so I just leave it alone.”

Karner says people have always paid for insects, but the internet has changed the industry. Now sellers can bypass companies like BioQuip and connect directly with buyers.

“That’s where the black market is at its best,” he says, referring to websites such as eBay. Indeed, it takes him about five seconds to find an advertisement on eBay for a Luzon peacock swallowtail, an endangered butterfly native to the Philippines that’s banned by CITES from international trade. “That’s like peddling a rhino horn or elephant tusk,” Karner says. The seller advertised it as “Papilio chi” instead of Papilio chikae, its scientific name. A couple of weeks later, the reference to “Papilio chi” was deleted from the ad.

A spokesman for eBay, which bans the sale of illegal wildlife, wrote in an email that the company uses “a combination of technological and human resources to identify and remove problem listings.”

Insect criminals fall into three categories, Karner explains. There are the unwitting smugglers who don’t know about the complex red tape involved in collecting and transporting insects. There are the traffickers who lack legal paperwork because they don’t want to pay permit fees and find the laws “silly”—a not uncommon sentiment. (As one Facebook user wrote in a hobbyist group, “There is essentially nothing gained by stopping specimens without conservation relevance at the border.”)

Then there are the serious criminals who intend to sell rare, banned species because they know there’s a lucrative market for them. That might be someone like Hisayoshi Kojima, a Japanese man sentenced in 2007 to 21 months in prison for running an international trafficking operation. The Fish and Wildlife Service agent who investigated the case told NPR that Kojima paid local people around the world pennies on the dollar to poach endangered butterflies and insects he then sold on his website.

It’s not unusual for international dealers to hire local hunters. Last year National Geographic chronicled the life of Jasmin Zainuddin, an Indonesian man who catches butterflies—some protected by law—and sells them at local tourist markets or to a butterfly boss who distributes them to traders around the world.

Sebastián Padrón, an entomologist with the University of Azuay, in Cuenca, Ecuador, came across a poacher several years ago in the Amazon rainforest who tried to sell him Prepona and morpho butterflies—iridescent aquamarine beauties. He says that although Ecuador has strict laws about insect collection and export, the country doesn’t have the resources to enforce them. According to Padrón, much of the contraband ends up in Japan, where insects have special fascination, and in the U.S. and Europe.

Entomologist Nancy Miorelli says vendors near her home in Quito, Ecuador, use the body parts of arthropods—mostly butterfly wings—to make earrings and necklaces to sell to tourists. When she asks the sellers how they source the animals, they can’t give her detailed answers. “I asked one if she knew if they were illegal, and she shrugged,” Miorelli says.

Why should we care?

It’s easy to dismiss invertebrate poaching as no big deal. More than a million recognised insect species and some 10 quintillion (that’s the number 1 followed by 18 zeros) bugs buzz, hiss, and fly around the planet. Worldwide, there are an estimated 12,000 millipede species and 900 species of tarantulas.

With so many critters populating Earth, how much of a dent can the commercial trade really make?

The short answer is that it depends. Tarantulas, for example, are especially vulnerable to poaching because they’re long-lived and reproduce infrequently. Insects, on the other hand, are resilient because they have short lifespans and produce lots of offspring.

But Shockley says that if a localised species already contending with other threats is taken in very large numbers, unfettered collecting can pose a real danger. (Shocking—albeit contestedresearch released last year suggested that habitat loss, pollutants, introduced species, and climate change have contributed to the decline of more than 40 percent of all insect species during the past several decades and that all insects could disappear within decades.)

Anophthalmus hitleri, a tiny reddish-brown beetle named after Adolf Hitler found in Slovenia, provides a bizarre example of the risks of overcollecting. The beetles (reportedly named in 1933 by German amateur entomologist Oscar Scheibel) became so popular among right-wing extremists that poachers cashing in on demand almost wiped them out in the early 2000s.

Most of the time, Shockley says, we don’t know how poaching affects species. “There’s stuff up in the canopy, there’s stuff at mid-levels, stuff on the ground.” Moreover, entomological research has a funding problem, which means there aren’t many people out there counting insects. Lack of data, not paucity of species, contributes to the paltry number of arthropods—90 species and three subspecies—that are regulated by CITES. “I know for me, I don’t want to run the risk of finding out what happens if you remove something,” Shockley adds.

Introducing an animal where it doesn’t naturally belong can be a problem too. If invertebrates smuggled into a new country get loose, they, or the parasites they host, can gobble up or otherwise harm native crops, plants, trees, or animals. “When you don’t know what’s coming in, there’s always that little concern,” says Greg Bartman, a U.S. Department of Agriculture employee who identifies insects found in cargo shipments. He points to the Indian walking stick insect as a cautionary tale: He suspects the exotic pet trade brought them to Southern California, where they’re wreaking havoc on hibiscuses, ivy, rosebushes, and other plants. And giant African millipedes (the same species of arthropods that escaped from a package addressed to Wlodzimie Lapkiewicz)? They sometimes carry a mite that can destroy bulb crops such as onions and garlic.

Even if poaching for the commercial trade posed no risk, the entomologists and hobbyists I spoke to think it’s simply unethical: “What scientifically useful information would be gleaned from collecting 10,000 jewel scarabs in a bucket trap from the same location on the same night?” Shockley says. And as Miorelli puts it, “People just walk into a place designed for conservation and kill their wildlife and take it out. It seems really disrespectful.”

Compelled to collect

When it comes to insects, Erica and Brian Ellis are so enthralled that they collect preserved specimens and display them around their home in Simi Valley, California.

At vendor Bob Duff’s booth at the Bug Fair, Sagra beetles, also called frog-legged leaf beetles, go for £6 a pop. Duff offers a variety of beetle species.

I met the couple at the Bug Fair in Los Angeles. The Ellises left that day with five new prizes: a titan beetle, a millipede, a velvet ant, a Japanese hornet, and a tarantula hawk—an enormous wasp that paralyses tarantulas before it eats them. All these animals have one thing in common: They’re among the biggest of their species—the Ellises’ main criterion for deciding which ones to buy. “It just kind of boggles the mind that they can get that large, to know that they were alive wandering the forest,” says Brian, who works in sales and marketing.

They bought their first insect, a shiny atlas beetle from Southeast Asia, at the Bug Fair seven years ago. “Even after we took him home, we would pull him out of the case and stare at him for a good 20, 30 minutes,” says Erica, an executive assistant at a biomedical pharmaceutical company. They soon became hooked on “the beauty and the differences” among arthropods, she says. Now they own about 50 preserved ones, including a two-foot-long walking stick insect from Southeast Asia that cost $1,200.

The Ellises say they like to buy from reputable sellers who provide detailed information about a creature’s identity and origin.

Fairgoer Max Orion Kesmodel isn’t surprised that there’s an illegal trade in insects. “I’m sure it’s a thing even without hearing about it because that’s how the world is,” he says. “If they do it with pearls, they’re going to do it with butterflies.”

Silkworms draw crowds at the Bug Fair. They aren’t the only live animals for sale: Fairgoers can choose from tarantulas, scorpions—even cockroaches.

Kesmodel, 23, is studying entomology at Los Angeles Valley College. He’s fascinated by the sheer diversity of insects, and their splashy appearance aligns with his interest in photography. This year at the Bug Fair he bought a stick insect from Malaysia and two colourful moths to add to his 150-plus collection. In general, he looks for brightly hued specimens, butterflies in pristine condition, and little scarab beetles such as June bugs, which, unlike some larger beetles, lack the impressive jaws that “terrify” him.

He too says he likes to buy from people with good reputations. “I’ve never just gone to someone’s house to buy something or anything like that,” he says. When I ask if he ever questions sellers about whether they have legal paperwork, he says he hasn’t considered that, then adds, “I probably should now that I’m thinking about it.”

Victoria Regis Knight contributed reporting to this story.

Wildlife Watch is an investigative reporting project between National Geographic Society and National Geographic Partners focusing on wildlife crime and exploitation. Read more Wildlife Watch stories here, and learn more about National Geographic Society’s nonprofit mission at nationalgeographic.org. Send tips, feedback, and story ideas to ngwildlife@natgeo.com.

western farm press

TNFP0905-Jhalenda-Rijal-BMSB-1_BT_Edits.jpg Jhalendra Rijal
The brown marmorated stink bug is blamed for causing extensive damage in an almond orchard in Turlock, Calif.

Troublesome stink bug found in almond orchard

First discovered in California in 2006, BMSB largely limited to urban areas.

Logan Hawkes | Sep 04, 2019

Residents of California, especially those living in cities like Los Angeles, Sacramento and Yuba City, are no strangers to the brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) as these insects seek and aggregate in homes and businesses for overwintering in the late fall season.

First discovered in California in 2006, the stink bug has largely been limited to urban areas at first, primarily to feed on ornamentals and backyard variety fruit trees. They also feed on seed pods of a variety of ornamental and shrub species, and especially its favorite, the tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima).

But according to USDA’s Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the BMSB also can be a major threat to commercial and garden vegetable crops like tomato, sweet and field corn varieties, cotton, soybeans, lima beans, snap peas, peppers and fruit trees like apple, peach, pear, and nectarine. Raspberries, blueberries, cherries, pecans, hazelnut, grape and most recently almonds are also at risk.

A voracious feeder, overall 170 host plants can be targeted and the damages it can cause can be moderate to devastating depending on population levels.

University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) reported last week that in May, a Turlock almond grower reported nearly all the nuts in one row of his almond orchard had fallen to the ground. UCCE Integrated Pest Management advisor Jhalendra Rijal responded to the call to discover an infestation of BMSB were responsible.

He said this is not the first time he has seen BMSB damage in almonds. The stink bug was found in two other Valley counties in 2017 and 2018 respectively. While the Turlock orchard received the greatest damage in 2019 so far, Rijal said three other almond orchards have also experienced some level of damage from the pest.

“We have also successfully trapped BMSB in peach orchards as far back as 2016,” Rijal said, an indication the pest may be expanding its presence.

Discovery of the pest in Turlock, located between Merced and Modesto, represents a concern for farmers of the area as it could mean increased movement of the pest from cities and into more commercial orchards.

According to UC Cooperative Extension’s Jeanette Warnert, a 2013 infestation of the pest in midtown Sacramento has been the most serious outbreak since BMSB moved into California, though in 2016 there were a few reports of the stink bug filtering into Stanislaus County. That’s when Rijal first began actively researching and tracking the pest and the risks it poses to commercial agriculture.

Orchard demonstration

Warnert reported last week that Rijal staged a gathering of growers and pest control advisers at the Turlock orchard on Aug. 13 to provide a demonstration of the types of damages the stink bugs can cause and how to recognize and detect the pests.

“I recommend growers and pest control advisors put BMSB traps in orchard edges if they suspect BMSB damage or if the orchard is located near potential overwintering structures or host crops,” Rijal said. “BMSB are good flyers and active throughout the season, damaging nuts from April through the fall. But the most substantial damage happens in the spring through early summer.”

Rijal reports the pest has now been found in commercial peach and almond orchards in Stanislaus and Merced counties.

According to stopbmsb.org, BMSB is difficult to detect in some vegetation. While the adult stink bug is typically shaped and marbled brown in color, eggs are barrel shaped, white to pale green, and laid in clusters on leaves. Nymphs shed their outer skin (molt) as they progress through five stages or nymphal instars before becoming adults.

In the fall BMSB adults aggregate in large numbers on the sides of buildings or on trees. They then move to protected places and overwinter as adults in a state of facultative diapause, or resting stage. In urban areas they can become problematic in large numbers, often found nesting between interior and exterior walls of homes and outbuildings and even attics.

According to USDA-APHIS, Halyomorpha halys is a native of Asia and has been expanding its range in the U.S. since its U.S. discovery in Allentown, Pennsylvania, around 1996. At last count it can be found in 40 U.S. states.

Management and control of the pest can be difficult. Entomologists warn the stink bug poses real danger to commercial crops and ornamental plants alike, and methods of control and eradication are still being explored and tested across the nation.

A major risk of movement exists because the pest often attaches itself to vehicles, including trucks, or lays eggs in shipments of nursery stock that can hatch after traveling between locations. Homeowners are warned to monitor their gardens and yards for presence of the pest and to report outbreaks to extension officials immediately.

Rijal says he has used traps to confirm the presence of BMSB in orchards and has been monitoring noticeable damage in tree crops.

“Although BMSB can feed on pistachios, my work has been focused on almonds and peaches. We don’t know whether BMSB attacks walnuts or not at this point,” he told Western Farm Press last week.

Rijal says Mark Hoddle, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Entomology at University of California (UC), Riverside, along with a group of UC researchers, have established that BMSB can feed on pistachio by testing BMSB feeding habits in the lab.

“But to my knowledge no reports of BMSB damage has been reported in a commercial pistachio orchard to date,” he added.

Successful trapping of BMSB

“We used sticky panel traps baited with the standard BMSB commercial pheromone lures to capture BMSB, both adults and immatures. Traps should be placed on the ground at orchard edges using a 4-foot tall wooden stake and sticky panel and lure on the top of the stake.”

He says so far BMSB has not been detected in California apple or pear orchards, although those crops are known hosts for the pests and are being affected in other states such as Virginia, West Virginia, New York and others.

Though thresholds have not been established for the stink bug yet, Rijal says farmers should use traps and monitor for visual signs of damage in their crop.

“At this point, watching out for any indication of BMSB presence in orchards is important. We are working to develop some provisional pest control recommendations currently to address this insect in almonds.”

At the time of this writing, there is no recommended insecticide that is successful on BMSB.

For more news on tree nuts as reported by growers and farm advisors, subscribe to the Tree Nut Farm Press e-newsletter.

Crown gall disease of grape

Nature World News

Researchers Gain New Insight About Bacteria Within Grapevine-Killing Crown Gall Tumors

Sep 02, 2019 01:25 AM EDT

Crown Gall Tumors (image)

Muscat of Alexandria grape vine with crown gall tumors from the Southern San Joaquin Valley.
(Photo : RIT)


Scientists have mapped the DNA of bacteria found within a chronic disease affecting grapevines, a feat they hope will ultimately help protect the multibillion-dollar grape industry that produces juice, jelly, wine, and other important products.

Researchers including several Rochester Institute of Technology faculty and alumni sequenced the microbiome found within tumors of grapevines afflicted with crown gall disease. The study spanned four continents and sheds light on the complex interaction between the grapevine and its microbial community, which could lead to better management of the crown gall disease in the future.

“The research is important given that the Finger Lakes region is such a large producer of wine,” said Professor André Hudson, head of RIT’s Thomas H. Gosnell School of Life Sciences. “Crown gall disease is caused by the plant pathogen Allorhizobium vitis and is one of the most debilitating diseases of grapes that impacts production and quality.”

The disease occurs when bacteria infect grapevines at the crown of the plant, where the root and the shoot meet.

“Bacteria transfer genes into the cells of the grapevine at the crown of the plant,” explained Michael Savka, professor at RIT’s Thomas H. Gosnell School of Life Sciences. “The piece of DNA that’s transferred into the grape cells basically encodes enzymes that allow for the plant cells to overproduce two hormones. Unregulated production of these two hormones leads to the crown gall tumor, a chronic disease that degrades the vigor of the plant.”

The international team of researchers conducted next-generation DNA sequencing of 73 tumor samples taken from grapevines from as close as Geneva, N.Y., and as far as Hungary, Tunisia and Japan. Han Ming Gan ’08 (biotechnology), a senior research fellow in genomics at Deakin University, said the study provides researchers a database that can be used to assess the disease stage of crown gall tumors in the future. The fundamental research can pave the way for more advances to combat the disease.

“Moving forward, what would be nice is to look at the functional aspect that can be attained using whole metagenome sequencing,” said Gan. “So far, the information that we obtained is on the ‘who’ but not the ‘how.’ In other words, we know which bacteria are in the galls but not what they are capable of doing.”