Welcome to the 32nd edition of ENDURE News, the electronic newsletter from ENDURE. Please feel free to share this newsletter with colleagues.

  • IPM works and IPMWORKS will show how!
    A European-wide network of farms is being constructed in order to “demonstrate and promote cost-effective strategies on Integrated Pest Management (IPM)”. Called IPMWORKS, the four-year Horizon 2020 project was launched in October and brings together 31 partners from 16 countries. The project will be developing an online IPM resource toolbox for farmers, advisers and researchers to easily search, share and discuss IPM reources and you can help out by completing a short survey.

  • Survey: Agroecology initiatives in Europe
    Agroecology Europe has produced its first report mapping a large number of agroecological initiatives across Europe, allowing it to identify key findings and recommendations for fostering agroecology around the continent.
  • DiverIMPACTS: Be inspired by success stories
    DiverIMPACTS, the project striving “to achieve the full diversification potential of cropping systems for improved productivity, delivery of ecosystem services and resource-efficient and sustainable value chains”, has published a series of success stories to inspire further diversification.
  • IHAR joins forces for late blight study
    Poland’s Plant Breeding and Acclimatization Institute (IHAR) has joined forces with the Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research to broaden knowledge “on plant diseases and the factors influencing resistance or susceptibility to pathogens”. In particular, they will be focusing on potato and the economically important disease which affects crops worldwide, potato late blight (pictured right).
  • Magazine gives insights into Agroscope research
    Agroscope, ENDURE’s Swiss partner, has launched a magazine to better share the topics it is working on. Available in English, French and German, the magazine provides concrete examples of its work, alongside interviews with key researchers and access to further sources of information such as videos and other publications.
  • ReMIX: Updates from the teams
    The next challenge for the ReMIX project (Species mixtures for redesigning European cropping systems) has been unveiled by the team’s coordinators. Writing in the project’s third newsletter, they highlight the importance of winning the support of policy makers in increasing the adoption of intercropping.
  • 5 principles for Scottish plant health
    Scotland has launched five key principles to protect the country’s plant health. Scotland’s Plant Health Centre published the principles to mark the United Kingdom’s Plant Health Week, which is itself part of the United Nations’ International Year of Plant Health.
  • UK launches centre for tomorrow’s food experts
    Rothamsted Research is joining forces with eight other universities and research institutes in the United Kingdom to create a joint PhD training centre focused on “developing the next generation of interdisciplinary food systems experts”.
  • Downy mildew breakthrough
    French researchers believe new control methods for grapevine downy mildew (pictured right) are a realistic prospect after managing to identify the group of genes involved in its sexual reproduction. It is the first time these genes have been identified in oomycetes, reports France’s INRAE.
  • Catch up with Agroecology Europe
    The latest edition of the newsletter from Agroecology Europe is now available. It includes the association’s position on the European Commission’s From Farm to Fork and biodiversity strategies, details of 2021’s 3rd Agroecology Europe forum and news from around the continent, including a feature on an innovative Belgian farmer.
  • Real-life nature-based IPM
    The latest electronic newsletter from Agricology, a community bringing farmers and researchers together to share knowledge in pursuit of “practical sustainable farming regardless of labels”, includes an interesting feature on UK farmer Martin Lines, chair of the Nature Friendly Farming Network.
  • Intercropping event to go virtual
    DECEMBER update: The organisers of next year’s Intercropping for Sustainability conference have opted for a virtual event via Zoom. Organisers had pledged to remain flexible about the format for the event, which was scheduled to be held at the UK’s University of Reading on January 19th and 20th.
  • Mixtures no ‘silver bullet’ to resistance
    Current efforts to stop the spread of resistance through the use of pesticide mixtures might sometimes “be doing as much harm as good”, says ENDURE partner Rothamsted Research.
  • DIVERSify: Watch and learn!
    The DIVERSify project has launched a mini-series “exploring the benefits and challenges of cultivating crop mixtures as an alternative to monoculture”. The series is called Growing Beyond Monoculture and currently consists of three episodes.
  • PPPs in Swiss field crops: Use and aquatic risks
    Researchers at Agroscope, ENDURE’s Swiss partner, have completed a study examining the use and risk of plant protection products (PPPs) in the country’s field crops over a period of 10 years. They conclude that decreasing amounts of PPPs are being used in the country but show that quantity alone does not determine the risk to the environment.
  • Events calendar: Check it out!
    After the difficulties of staging events in 2020, a slew of conferences and meetings have been rescheduled for 2021, and some events, both new and reorganised, are including the possibility of virtual attendance or even introducing back-up plans that will allow organisers to move meetings to online-only events at short notice.
  • IWMPRAISE: Latest newsletter now available
    IWMPRAISE (Integrated Weed Management: PRActical Implementation and Solutions for Europe) has produced its fourth newsletter, bringing readers up to date with the latest news from the Horizon 2020 project. The project is now entering its fourth and penultimate year and 2020 should have seen the finalisation of experiments and a plethora of workshops and open days, activities which were rendered impossible by the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • To find out more about ENDURE, visit: www.endure-network.eu
  • To get in touch with ENDURE, use the contact form
  • Click here to unsubscribe from this newsletter

Cedar fight goes across fence and state lines

TAGS: CONSERVATIONLIVESTOCKCurt ArensA few members of the Bristow, Neb. area crew pose in front of the trucks they purchased to help on prescribed burnsCRUCIAL CREW: A few members of the Bristow, Neb., area crew pose in front of the trucks they bought to help on prescribed burns. Over the past eight years, this group has burned more than 30,000 acres in their fight to reclaim grasslands from invasive eastern red cedar.Working together has been a successful formula for Nebraska and South Dakota advocates of prescribed fire.

Curt Arens | Dec 23, 2020

Gathering landowners to work together on prescribed burn projects has been a winning model in the successful defeat of eastern red cedar encroachment on grazing lands. Normally, prescribed burn associations work across fence lines with neighboring landowners.

Over the past decade, eastern members of the Niobrara Valley Prescribed Fire Association, covering much of north-central Nebraska, have not only reached across fence lines, but also state lines into neighboring South Dakota, to beat the invasion of ERC.

Related: New strategy in battle against invasive cedars

It started in 2010 when Jerald Dennis, Bristow, Neb., sheared ERC trees in a large portion of family-owned grasslands on the south shore of Lake Francis Case in South Dakota, behind Fort Randall Dam. He piled the dead cedar trees for curing. In 2011, Dennis deferred grazing on the tract, to grow fuel for the prescribed burn he was planning the following spring.

“It took an entire year to plan the burn, coordinating between five landowners, four government agencies along with local law enforcement and fire departments,” Dennis explains. On that burn with Dennis, Dave Steffen from Gregory, S.D., and other interested landowners in the area watched as observers.

Dennis has worked at Nebraska State Bank in Bristow for nearly 40 years. Most of that time, he has also served on the Bristow Fire Department. His family owns about 2,000 acres of pasture in both states, so he’s been involved in prescribed burning for the past 13 years. The Prescribed Fire Association that Dennis works with has conducted burns on just over 30,000 acres since 2012.

They normally develop their burn schedule at a meeting each February, so 10 to 12 people can plan to be involved with each burn. The local members of the association bought two Army surplus pickup trucks to transport skid water pumping units with 250-gallon tanks, hoses and a reel they borrow from the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

The burn near Fort Randall encompassed 3,145 acres. “We had a well-seasoned crew of 12 from Nebraska working that burn,” Dennis says. “It also helped that we had Lake Francis Case to the north and a highway to the south.”

Steffen watched the Nebraska crew and became interested in conducting more prescribed burns locally. “The following year, Steffen and a few other interested parties came down from South Dakota and attended our local meeting, and a few controlled burns,” Dennis says. “We collaborated on burns in South Dakota by helping that group develop burn plans and assisting with the burns. Our motivation was to teach their group how to safely conduct controlled burns, so they could teach others in the state.”

In 2017, the South Dakota group formed its own Mid-Missouri River Prescribed Burn Association —the first in the state — with Steffen and several neighbors as driving forces in the effort.

“Cedar trees were just beginning to become a problem,” Steffen recalls. “I looked at maps that showed the encroachment problems, especially big bunches along the Missouri River.”  The aerial maps showed about one-third of Gregory County with cedar tree problems. “Thanks to funds from the South Dakota Grasslands Coalition, we sent out a questionnaire, asking landowners about cedars on their land, and if they would consider prescribed fire as a control.”

Jerald DennisA prescribed burnLIGHTING IT UP:  Two years before the actual burn near Fort Randall Dam in South Dakota, Jerald Dennis sheared several large cedar trees and pushed them up against mature live trees. In 2012, when they started their prescribed burn in that area, the sheared trees ignited easily and burned into the live trees.

Steffen says that working with the Nebraska group helped their association in South Dakota organize and conduct burns of its own.

“We’ve had burns in the hundreds of acres so far, mostly in Gregory County, but also in Charles Mix County. That included a couple of big ranches,” Steffen says. “In many cases, nonresident landowners contact us about conducting a burn on their property. In most cases, we like it when landowners participate in the burn themselves, but with some nonresidents, we accept a payment for doing the burns.”

The Mid-Missouri River group now covers four counties, including Gregory, Charles Mix, Brule and Lyman.

“From the prescribed burns, we have witnessed tremendous recovery of warm-season native grasses on those grasslands where there was grazing management to go along with it,” Steffen says. “There has been fantastic recovery to a typical native plant community in the rough hills and breaks of the Missouri River.”

Cedar treesDEAD TIMBER:  At specific heights, cedar trees do not stand a chance against a well-run prescribed burn. Most of the trees pictured here are completed destroyed. Grass recovery in an area like this is surprisingly rapid.

Steffen says that landowners are amazed with the amount of new grass growth there has been within a year’s time. “Keep in mind, we’ve had plenty of rain in recent years to grow grass, so we have been above normal in soil moisture,” he adds.

For the group based in Bristow, fire has been a worthwhile tool in their war against ERC for more than a decade. “We add new, younger members to our group every year,” Dennis says. “Most of them are members of the fire department, so they are comfortable with conducting a burn. We all work together, and it is great knowing that the other guys have got your back.”

Learn more about Nebraska prescribed fire associations at the state’s Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever website, nebraskapf.com. Learn about the Mid-Missouri River Prescribed Burn Association of South Dakota online at midmissouririverpba.com.RELATEDYoung farmers get involved in ag groupsNovember 17, 2020Landowners band together to confront eastern red cedarJune 22, 2020

Management of Fall Armyworm: The IPM Innovation Lab Approach



Sara Hendery

Communications Coordinator

Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Integrated Pest Management

Hendery, Sara saraeh91@vt.edu


New app to detect plants at risk from myrtle rust

Capsules (also known as gumnuts) of Eucalyptus pilularis. Features like this can enable users of the NZ Myrtaceae Key to identify species of interest. Supplied photo.

People keen to support the fight against the fungal disease myrtle rust, which threatens many of Aotearoa-New Zealand’s native trees, shrubs and climbers, now have a new tool to help identify vulnerable plants in the myrtle family.

Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research and Biosecurity New Zealand have partnered in the development of the NZ Myrtaceae Key – a free app that makes it easy for citizen biosecurity volunteers to identify susceptible plants and keep an eye out for the fungal disease myrtle rust.

Myrtle rust has already spread across the top half of the North Island and cases have been recorded as far south as Greymouth.

“We know how much damage plant pests and diseases are causing overseas, and science partnerships, like this, will help us stay ahead,” says Veronica Herrera, MPI’s diagnostics and surveillance services director.

The NZ Myrtaceae Key is a Lucid identification tool envisaged and funded by Biosecurity New Zealand and developed by botanists from Manaaki Whenua, the National Forestry Herbarium, Unitec, and other experts.

The app is easy-to-use, interactive and comprehensively illustrated with more than 1,600 fully captioned images built in and it is downloadable for both iPhone and Android smartphones.

“The key includes more than 100 of the most commonly found Myrtaceae species, subspecies, hybrids and cultivars in New Zealand. Of these, 27 species, such as the iconic pōhutukawa, mānuka and kānuka, are indigenous to New Zealand: others, such as feijoa and eucalyptus, are exotics of economic importance,” says Dr Herrera.

Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research researcher, Murray Dawson says the arrival of the windborne myrtle rust in 2017 gave a new importance to being able to identify Myrtaceae as heavily infected plants inevitably die.

“The disease is a threat to the important and substantial mānuka and kānuka honey industry. Using the new app to accurately identify species of Myrtaceae in New Zealand will make it easier to monitor and report cases of myrtle rust.

“By using the key, anyone, from farmers and trampers to gardeners and park users, will be able to identify plants to check for and report the tell-tale yellow spores, and diseased leaves,” says Mr Dawson.

To use the app, the characteristics of the plant being identified are entered, the app then sorts plants possessing these features, and it rejects those that don’t match. By progressively choosing additional features, the key will eventually narrow the results to just one or a few matching species.

Once you’ve correctly identified a plant in the myrtle family and if you think you see signs of the disease on it, don’t touch it.

If you have a camera or mobile phone you can take a photo and submit it to the iNaturalist website. Experts can check to confirm whether it is myrtle rust.

Capturing this information makes it available to agencies and scientists to analyse the rate of spread and observed impacts.

The NZ Myrtaceae Key is available from the Google Play (Android) store and the iPhone app store as a mobile (smartphone) app suitable for undertaking identifications in the field, or through a web-based browser hosted by Manaaki Whenua.

Plants on aspirin

Science News from research organizations

Plants on aspirin

Date:December 1, 2020Source:Institute of Science and Technology Austria

Summary:For centuries humans were using willow barks to treat a headache or an inflamed tooth. Later, the active ingredient, the plant hormone salicylic acid, was used to develop painkillers like Aspirin. But what happens, if plants are treated with these painkillers? By doing so, scientists discovered an unexpected bioactivity of human pharmaceuticals in plants.


When pathogens enter a plant, infected cells set off an alarm before they die. They discharge methylsalicylic acid, which is later transformed into salicylic acid, triggering an immune response. Hence, salicylic acid is a stress signal in plants, but it also participates in regulating plant growth and development. In humans, salicylic acid proofed to be useful in a different way: Already in prehistoric times people realized that when they were drinking willow bark tea or taking other willow bark preparations, fever dropped and pain disappeared. Centuries later, scientists developed salicylic acid derivatives such as Aspirin and Ibuprofen. These so called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) suppress the inflammatory response of mammalian cells, thereby making us feel better when we have a cold. But how do they affect plants?

Losing the sense of direction

“When I got the idea, I had a really serious toothache and I had some Ibuprofen at hands,” explains Shutang Tan, who at that time was a postdoc at the Institute of Science and Technology (IST) Austria working in the group of Professor Ji?í Friml. “I simply used the tablets from the pharmacy and I took the same amount as in my previous experiments with salicylic acid. Then, I observed the effect of the Ibuprofen on Arabidopsis seedlings.” The primary roots of the plant were significantly shorter and instead of growing downward, they were curling up, unable to respond to gravity. Furthermore, the plants developed fewer or no lateral roots at all.

Together with colleagues at the IST Austria and six other research institutions Shutang Tan looked at the effects of 20 different painkillers on Arabidopsis seedlings. “We found that all of the painkillers we tested, including Aspirin and Ibuprofen, were interfering with the auxin flow,” explains Tan. The plant hormone auxin is essential for all developmental processes within a plant. It is especially responsible for a plants ability to stretch its leaves towards the sun and its roots towards the center of the earth. So called PIN proteins regulate the flow of auxin from one cell to the other, depending on which side of the cell they are sitting. If the PIN proteins are not at the right location within the cell, the flow of auxin is disturbed, leading to a faulty development of the plant. Hence, the painkillers seemed to interfere with the localization of the PIN proteins. But it didn’t stop there.

Complex dynamics within plant cells

Looking closely, the scientists discovered that the effect is not limited to PIN proteins, but that the drugs interfere with the whole endomembrane system, suppressing the movement and trafficking of substances within the cells. The painkillers impair the dynamics of the cytoskeleton of the cells, a network of interlinking proteins, which among many other things gives the cell its shape and is involved in the uptake of extracellular material. Together with Markus Geisler’s group at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, the researchers at IST Austria uncovered that one group of painkillers, including the drugs Meclofenamic acid and Flufenamic acid, directly target an immunophilin-like protein, called TWISTED DWARF1, to realize these physiological and cellular activities.

Furthermore, the scientists were able to show, that NSAIDs have similar physiological and cell biological effects as auxin transport inhibitors — important chemical tools in cell biology, which interfere with the transport of auxin. “It would be very interesting to find out, if these auxin transport inhibitors can also be used as painkillers in animals. That is one big question we still need to answer” concludes Tan. Together with IST Professor Ji?í Friml, Shutang Tan, who is now establishing his own laboratory at the University of Science and Technology of China, wants to investigate which additional proteins within the plant are targeted by the painkillers and what pathways they use to do so.

Story Source:

Materials provided by Institute of Science and Technology AustriaNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Shutang Tan, Martin Di Donato, Matouš Glanc, Xixi Zhang, Petr Klíma, Jie Liu, Aurélien Bailly, Noel Ferro, Jan Petrášek, Markus Geisler, Jiří Friml. Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs Target TWISTED DWARF1-Regulated Actin Dynamics and Auxin Transport-Mediated Plant DevelopmentCell Reports, 2020; 33 (9): 108463 DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2020.108463

Cite This Page:

Institute of Science and Technology Austria. “Plants on aspirin.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 December 2020. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/12/201201124059.htm>.

New strategy in battle against invasive cedars

TAGS: RANCHINGCurt ArensControlled burn in field

FIRE IT UP: Prescribed fire is one of the most comprehensive tools available to farmers and ranchers in their battle against invasive eastern red cedar. Fire does especially well when control measures are first employed on smaller trees located on intact grasslands, and then working back into mature stands.Start with intact grasslands, and work on controlling small cedars first.

Curt Arens | Dec 15, 2020

What if we’ve been going about reclaiming grazing lands from encroachment of invasive eastern red cedar trees all wrong? There is no denying the issue.

Between 2005 and 2015, cedar seedlings in Nebraska doubled to nearly 275 million. The Nebraska Forest Service estimates that 333,134 forest acres in cedar in 2015 amounts to about 22% of the state’s forested area.https://b710577702287762840fb1d33fc50ac6.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

Thanks to mechanical removal and other means, the spread has slowed since 2009, and the state’s cedar forest declined by 30,000 acres between 2013 and 2015. However, the problem remains monumental, and the state’s rangeland and livestock producers are negatively affected if the problem isn’t controlled.

At a series of recent workshops sponsored in part by the Nebraska Grazing Lands Coalition, Nebraska Cattlemen and the Sandhills Task Force, Nebraska rangeland ecologist Dirac Twidwell told producers that our strategy so far is flawed.

Rather than dumping endless resources into the worst areas of encroachment, and trying to tackle large cedar trees and clear vast areas, Twidwell suggested trying something new. He believes that the best and most efficient use of resources is to start in areas of rangeland where cedar trees are just beginning to invade, clearing those areas first, and then working back into the worst spots.

Starting with grasslands

“This strategy is more effective when people consider the ecology of encroachment, which starts with the reproduction pathway,” Twidwell explained. “Spread into grasslands comes from a seed source, and 95% of cedar encroachment in the Nebraska Sandhills occurred within 200 yards of a seed source.”

If producers manage cedars by only cutting mature, reproducing trees, then landowners can never catch up to seed distribution. “That means that they have to come back to cut again in the future,” Twidwell said. “Manage the seed, prevent seedlings from becoming mature and anchor efforts to healthy grasslands.”

After that battle is won, then push back against the more mature stands, he added.

“Multiple management options have the potential to manage the encroachment process,” Twidwell said. “There is no silver bullet. But only fire has the potential to manage all phases of encroachment at once, because fire consumes seed, kills seedlings and can kill mature trees and larger stands.”

At a low cost of only $5 to $10 per acre, no other tool at a landowner’s disposal has the potential to do all four things at once like fire.

The best success stories in winning the battle against encroachment have been where landowners have banded together to use prescribed fire to burn grasslands before cedar trees become a visible problem. “These areas have been shown to be more capable of preventing grassland loss,” Twidwell added.

“Woody encroachment is a national rangeland problem, and it is taking land out of agricultural production,” he noted. “It shows we have weakness in our management, and it is tied to trees.”

Intact rangelands are most resilient to woody encroachment, but to prevent the expansion and loss of intact grasslands, new seed-producing trees must be prevented.

“The Great Plains still has some of the most intact grasslands remaining on the planet,” Twidwell said. “The Sandhills produced more than 30 billion pounds of total grass production last year.”

But no state or region has fixed the cedar problem once encroachment has taken over, he said. “Don’t wait to act,” Twidwell said. “You can’t control the problem just on your own property. We are seeing the need to band together and to scale up and think bigger. The areas where we see landowners cooperating and working together are the areas in the Great Plains where we are seeing the greatest success.”

Learn more by contacting Twidwell at dirac.twidwell@unl.edu.

CABI helps update Wikipedia species pages to help spread advice on fighting crop pests and diseases

CABI has teamed up with John Cummings – UNESCO’s ‘Wikimedian in Residence’ – to update Wikipedia species pages on a range of devastating crop pests and diseases including Fall armywormBanana Xanthomonas Wilt and Rice yellow mottle virus.

In total 19 species were chosen to be updated, using material from Plantwise-derived Pest Management Decision Guides (PMDGs) and Plantwise Factsheets for Farmers (PFFF), with the ultimate aim of increasing the reach of pest diagnostic and management advice.

Other species on the list that has been updated – representing 1% of species coverage on the Plantwise Knowledge Bank (PWKB) – include Cotton bollwormEggplant fruit and shoot borer and Zebra chip.

Those chosen are species commonly identified by millions of smallholder farmers at Plantwise plant clinics, have gained in popularity in the international news and previously only had basic information in Wikipedia compared to Plantwise-derived materials.

Dr Claire Beverley, Head of Plantwise Knowledge Bank, Knowledge & Data Management Team, said, “Plantwise aims to support the UN Sustainable Development Goals by improving farmers’ yields and incomes while reducing the use of toxic pesticides.

“Digital innovations are a cornerstone of the help given to countries to improve plant health systems so that pest outbreaks can be prevented and managed more effectively.

“Not only is information on the Plantwise Knowledge Bank – through a range of apps, pest risk forecasts, e-learning modules and diagnostic services – key to the support package available but information on Wikipedia is also an important resource.

“We sought to update the information on the Wikipedia species pages which, we hope, will also drive ‘traffic’ to the Plantwise Knowledge Bank where more extensive help and advice can be found.”

Prior to Dr Beverley and her team, including Gareth Richards and Martin Parr, working with Mr Cummings, she sought to review existing copyright and creative commons licence statements on donor-funded, open access CABI sites – which highlighted certain omissions and inconsistences.

This then led to the team writing a position statement on assigning and updating copyright and content licences in the PWKB and Invasive Species Compendium. The new guidance is intended ensure CABI’s work is credited where used and provide clear procedure where attribution is given.

The licensing issues needed to be clarified before editing the Wikipedia content and, for the first time, individual copyright statements have been applied to all PWKB content.

Additional information

Main image: Dr Ivan Rwomushana helps scout for Fall armyworm – one of the featured species to update on Wikipedia pages – in Botswana (Credit: CABI).

Plantwise Knowledge Bank

Explore the full range of features of the Plantwise Knowledge Bank – including help to diagnose a pest problem, country specific resources and pest alerts – from the dedicated web pages.ISCInvasive species compendiumPlantwisePlantwise Knowledge Bankplant clinicsDevelopment communication and extension

The Smellicopter drone

The Smellicopter is an obstacle-avoiding drone that uses a live moth antenna to seek out smells

University of Washington

7-Dec-2020 5:10 PM EST, by University of WashingtonEdit Institutionfavorite_border6

Newswise: The Smellicopter is an obstacle-avoiding drone that uses a live moth antenna to seek out smells

Mark Stone/University of Washington

A University of Washington-led team has developed Smellicopter: an autonomous drone that uses a live antenna from a moth to navigate toward smells. Shown here is lead author Melanie Anderson, a doctoral student of mechanical engineering, holding the Smellicopter.PreviousNext

Newswise — One huge advantage of drones is that these little robots can go places where people can’t, including areas that might be too dangerous, such as unstable structures after a natural disaster or a region with unexploded devices.

Researchers are interested in developing devices that can navigate these situations by sniffing out chemicals in the air to locate disaster survivors, gas leaks, explosives and more. But most sensors created by people are not sensitive or fast enough to be able to find and process specific smells while flying through the patchy odor plumes these sources create.

Now a team led by the University of Washington has developed Smellicopter: an autonomous drone that uses a live antenna from a moth to navigate toward smells. Smellicopter can also sense and avoid obstacles as it travels through the air. The team published these results Oct. 1 in the journal IOP Bioinspiration & Biomimetics.

“Nature really blows our human-made odor sensors out of the water,” said lead author Melanie Anderson, a UW doctoral student in mechanical engineering. “By using an actual moth antenna with Smellicopter, we’re able to get the best of both worlds: the sensitivity of a biological organism on a robotic platform where we can control its motion.”

The moth uses its antennae to sense chemicals in its environment and navigate toward sources of food or potential mates.

“Cells in a moth antenna amplify chemical signals,” said co-author Thomas Daniel, a UW professor of biology who co-supervises Anderson’s doctoral research. “The moths do it really efficiently — one scent molecule can trigger lots of cellular responses, and that’s the trick. This process is super efficient, specific and fast.”

The team used antennae from the Manduca sexta hawkmoth for Smellicopter. Researchers placed moths in the fridge to anesthetize them before removing an antenna. Once separated from the live moth, the antenna stays biologically and chemically active for up to four hours. That time span could be extended, the researchers said, by storing antennae in the fridge.

By adding tiny wires into either end of the antenna, the researchers were able to connect it to an electrical circuit and measure the average signal from all of the cells in the antenna. The team then compared it to a typical human-made sensor by placing both at one end of a wind tunnel and wafting smells that both sensors would respond to: a floral scent and ethanol, a type of alcohol. The antenna reacted more quickly and took less time to recover between puffs. 

To create Smellicopter, the team added the antenna sensor to an open-source hand-held commercially available quadcopter drone platform that allows users to add special features. The researchers also added two plastic fins on the back of the drone to create drag to help it be constantly oriented upwind.

“From a robotics perspective, this is genius,” said co-author and co-advisor Sawyer Fuller, a UW assistant professor of mechanical engineering. “The classic approach in robotics is to add more sensors, and maybe build a fancy algorithm or use machine learning to estimate wind direction. It turns out, all you need is to add a fin.”

Smellicopter doesn’t need any help from the researchers to search for odors. The team created a “cast and surge” protocol for the drone that mimics how moths search for smells. Smellicopter begins its search by moving to the left for a specific distance. If nothing passes a specific smell threshold, Smellicopter then moves to the right for the same distance. Once it detects an odor, it changes its flying pattern to surge toward it. 

Smellicopter can also avoid obstacles with the help of four infrared sensors that let it measure what’s around it 10 times each second. When something comes within about eight inches (20 centimeters) of the drone, it changes direction by going to the next stage of its cast-and-surge protocol.

“So if Smellicopter was casting left and now there’s an obstacle on the left, it’ll switch to casting right,” Anderson said. “And if Smellicopter smells an odor but there’s an obstacle in front of it, it’s going to continue casting left or right until it’s able to surge forward when there’s not an obstacle in its path.” 

Another advantage to Smellicopter is that it doesn’t need GPS, the team said. Instead it uses a camera to survey its surroundings, similar to how insects use their eyes. This makes Smellicopter well-suited for exploring indoor or underground spaces like mines or pipes.

During tests in the UW research lab, Smellicopter was naturally tuned to fly toward smells that moths find interesting, such as floral scents. But researchers hope that future work could have the moth antenna sense other smells, such as the exhaling of carbon dioxide from someone trapped under rubble or the chemical signature of an unexploded device.

“Finding plume sources is a perfect task for little robots like the Smellicopter and the Robofly,” Fuller said. “Larger robots are capable of carrying an array of different sensors around and using them to build a map of their world. We can’t really do that at the small scale. But to find the source of a plume, all a robot really needs to do is avoid obstacles and stay in the plume while it moves upwind. It doesn’t need a sophisticated sensor suite for that — it just needs to be able to smell well. And that’s what the Smellicopter is really good at.”

Joseph Sullivan, a UW electrical and computer engineering doctoral student, and Timothy Horiuchi, an electrical and computer engineering associate professor at the University of Maryland College Park, are also co-authors. This research was funded by the National Defense and Engineering Graduate Fellowship, the Washington Research Foundation, the Joan and Richard Komen Endowed Chair and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research with The Air Force Center of Excellence on Nature-Inspired Flight Technologies and Ideas.


Grant number: FA9550-14-1-0398

GM eggplant helps farmers reduce pesticide use and increase profits, study finds – Alliance for Science (cornell.edu)

by Joan Conrow

Dec. 7, 2020

Journal of Agricultural Economics.

“Bt brinjal, a publicly developed GMO [genetically modified organism], conveys significant productivity and income benefits to farmers while reducing the use of pesticides damaging to human and ecological health,” the researchers concluded.

Cultivating Bt brinjal raised yields by 3,564 kilograms per hectare. Bt brinjal farmers are harvesting more eggplant and discarding fewer fruits due to damage, resulting in higher yields, the researchers found.

“Bt brinjal farmers sell more eggplant and receive a higher price for the output they sell while incurring lower input costs, resulting in a 128 percent increase in net revenues,” the paper states.

The researchers, who are based at Cornell University and the International Food Policy Research Institute in Dhaka, also found that “Bt brinjal farmers used smaller quantities of pesticides and sprayed less frequently. Bt brinjal reduced the toxicity of pesticides as much as 76 percent.” Additionally, farmers who had pre‐existing chronic conditions consistent with pesticide poisoning were less likely to report a symptom of pesticide poisoning or incur cash medical expenses to treat such symptoms while growing Bt brinjal.

Smallholder farmers grow brinjal because it is a lucrative cash crop that is popular with consumers. However, the devastating fruit and shoot borer (FSB) pest can damage up to 86 percent of their plants. In an attempt to control the pest, farmers may use pesticides from 23 to 140 times per season, though few take measures to protect themselves and the environment during application.

Bt brinjal — the first genetically modified (GM) food crop adopted for cultivation in South Asia — provides inherent resistance to the FSB.

Researchers based their study on a farm-level cluster randomized controlled trial (RCT). To their knowledge, it was the first study to use an RCT design, which is less vulnerable to concerns regarding selection bias and endogenous placement, to assess the impact of a GM crop in a South Asia setting. Their study sample comprised 1,196 households (598 treatment households and 598 control households) in 200 clusters/villages (100 treatment and 100 control villages), with an attrition rate of 1.7 percent (five treatment households and 15 controls).

“Critics of GM crops claim that GMOs convey no economic, health or environmental benefits while they also ‘pose a serious threat to farmer sovereignty.’ Our results speak directly to these criticisms,” the researchers wrote. “Bt brinjal farmers marketed more output, sold at a higher price, incurred lower input costs, and, consequently, had higher net revenues (by 128 percent). Bt brinjal farmers used smaller quantities of pesticides, sprayed less frequently, and reduced the toxicity of pesticides applied by 42 to 76 percent. All these benefits were derived from an open‐pollinated crop provided by a public agency.”https://www.youtube.com/embed/nEHEt56w0PU?feature=oembed

Researchers found that although Bt brinjal farmers retained more brinjal for home consumption, both because they produced more and discarded less post‐harvest, they sold also 143.6 kg more brinjal than the control group — an impact significant at the 5 percent level. Additionally, Bt brinjal sold at prices 12.6 percent higher than non-GM varieties.

“We note that traders purchasing Bt brinjal knew that it was a GM crop, and, to the best of our knowledge, consumers knew that they were purchasing a GMO food,” the researchers wrote. “A consequence of reduced pesticide application was that Bt brinjal looked better and had no marks of infestation or holes, the skin of the brinjal was much softer, making the food easier to prepare and, according to the respondents in our qualitative fieldwork, tastier.”

To illustrate those points, the researchers included this comment from a market trader: “At the beginning, I could not sell this brinjal in this market; I forced them to take it, especially those who are known to me to come every day. I told them no problem if you do not pay money. Then, when they took the brinjal home and ate it, they told me to give them more brinjal. Since then, demand is getting higher. In fact, it was not sold for two or three days at the beginning. After that, I enticed all of them to buy this. Since then, I did not have any problems.”

Bt brinjal farmers also required less family labor — 250 days, compared to 278 days for control households — primarily because they were able to reduce the number of pesticide applications by 33.6 percent, compared to the control group. The quantity of pesticide used fell by 28.2 percent, while the toxicity of pesticides also declined by 42 percent overall. Farmers growing Bt brinjal and who had pre‐existing chronic conditions were 11.5 percentage points less likely to report a symptom of pesticide poisoning.

“We note three policy implications that follow from these results,” the researchers concluded. “They support the view that GMOs can contribute to the goal of increasing yields while reducing environmental stressors. They provide further justification for releasing Bt brinjal in countries such as India and the Philippines, where these varieties have been developed but not approved for cultivation due to public reservations about GMO foods. They point to the valuable role that public agencies can play in the dissemination of GMOs. The involvement of BARI and the Bangladesh Department of Agriculture in the development and support of Bt brinjal cultivation alleviates concerns raised by anti‐GMO activists regarding farmer sovereignty. Finally, our finding that consumers are willing to pay more for a GM crop is striking; further work understanding why would be of value.”




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Moroccan fly could help keep pest pointed snails under control

SA Country Hour / 

By Lucas ForbesPosted 2ddays ago

A fly emerges from the shell of a pointed snail.
This particular strain of Moroccan fly parasitises pointed snails.(Supplied: Yassine Fendane)

  • Scientists have imported a Moroccan fly to Australia to test if it can be used to kill introduced pest snails.

Key points:

  • Scientists are looking to introduce a Moroccan fly to Australia so it can kill pest pointed snails
  • Pest snails are a major issue for farmers, particularly in wetter areas
  • Scientists are studying the fly under quarantine in Australia, to see if it will damage the environment if released

Pest snails eat Australian crops and can get caught in machinery during harvest, costing Australian farmers dearly — especially those in high rainfall areas.

However, the CSIRO is studying a strain of a parasitic fly under quarantine that could help get pointed snail numbers under control if it can be safely released into Australia’s environment.

CSIRO researcher Valerie Caron said, unlike other pest control methods, using flies as a biocontrol agent required little action from humans once they were released.

“They lay the larvae on the shell, and that little larvae will go inside the snail, it will kill it and eat it and the only thing that comes out of the shell after that is another fly later that can also mate and reproduce and kill more snails,” Dr Caron said.

Before that though, scientists need to be sure that this fly will not kill native snails as well.

A black fly on a branch with several snails with pointed shells.
A parasitic Moroccan fly looking for its host in the field.(Supplied: Yassine Fendane)

Perhaps the most infamous example of a biocontrol agent gone wrong is the cane toad.

Cane toads were brought into Australia in 1935 to control cane beetles in the sugar cane industry, but quickly spread throughout the country becoming a pest and outcompeting native wildlife.

However, Dr Caron said Australia’s biosecurity practices had changed to prevent another cane toad situation.

good generic pic of cane toad
Cane toads were originally introduced to keep other pests from getting out of control.(ABC)

“The CSIRO, SARDI, and me as a researcher, there’s no way we want to have our names associated with a pest, or with a biocontrol agent that becomes a pest,” she said.

“We’ve come a long way since the cane toad and that’s why we have good biosecurity regulation, and we also have our ethics — making sure that we wouldn’t do anything harmful.”

‘No silver bullet’ for pests

The Moroccan fly, which scientists are studying, has been imported into Australia before.

A strain of the same species based in France was released on South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula in the early 2000s.

However, Dr Caron said that fly did not work as well as they wanted, possibly because of where it was from.

Scientist Dr Valerie Caron
The CSIRO’s Dr Valerie Caron says scientists need to be sure that this fly won’t damage the environment before it can be released into the wild.(Supplied: CSIRO)

“We really hope that it is going to help with controlling the pointed snail. But further research down the line showed that, first, it didn’t spread very much and second, it really didn’t suppress population like we were hoping,” she said.

“More research showed that, when we look at the genetics of the snails, the ones introduced to Australia don’t come from France at all, they come from Morocco, Portugal, Spain. So then, where we got the fly from is not where our invasive snails are from.

“We thought that maybe if we really look at where the snails come from, maybe we can find something that is more efficient.”

However, Dr Caron said the flies would not fix pointed snail populations by themselves.

“I call snails super organisms, they’re extremely hard to control and I think any producer with snails will agree with me — they’re very difficult to control,” she said.

“So I would say to everyone, it’s not going to be a silver bullet against snails. They’re extremely adaptable.”

Biocontrol agents at work in Australia

Perhaps one of the most famous biocontrol agents to be used in Australia was Myxoma virus, which causes myxomatosis in rabbits.

In the 1950s, Australia’s rabbit population numbered around 600 million, eroding soil and competing with livestock for pasture so much so that farms were abandoned.

Myxomatosis reduced rabbit numbers and, while they would eventually recover, they still have not reached the same numbers they did in the 1950s.

Two rabbits in a field
Myxomatosis is perhaps the most famous case of a biocontrol agent at work in Australia.(ABC News)

Prickly pear was another pest that was successfully suppressed with biocontrol agents.

The cactus was introduced to Australia in 1840 and by 1930 it had infested 30 million hectares around Brisbane.

However, the cactus moth helped turn the tide with trillions of the moth’s larvae consuming an estimated 1.5 billion tonnes of prickly pear in less than a decade after its introduction in 1926.

More recently the Federal Government provided funding for scientists to import a South African weevil that could be used to control fireweed, a yellow weed that can poison livestock.
Posted 2ddays agoShare

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