varroa mite on beeVarroa mite on honey bee

ARS Scientist Leads $1 Million Funded Consortium to Seek Honey Bee Disease Controls

By Kim Kaplan
March 13, 2018

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) entomologist Steven Cook will be leading a $1 million funded international consortium of scientists to seek new controls for Varroa mites, honey bees’ number one problem.

Cook, with the Bee Research Laboratory, a part of ARS’s Beltsville (Maryland) Agricultural Research Center, will be the principal investigator of a group that will include scientists from the United States, Canada and Spain. ARS is the in-house research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The researchers will be screening a variety of chemical compounds for their ability to control Varroa mites with minimal damage to honey bees on an individual and colony level. Laboratory and field studies will be conducted at facilities in Alabama, Georgia, Maryland and Ohio, as well as in Alberta, Canada.

In laboratories in Nebraska and Spain, scientists also will be using advanced methods to work out an understanding of the molecular mechanisms by which Varroa mites develop resistance to various chemical controls.

Improving knowledge of such mechanisms would provide a better guide to researchers and narrow the field in the future for selecting chemicals worth screening as new control agents for Varroa mites.

The largest single grant for this project is an award of $475,559 to Cook from the Pollinator Health Fund established by the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) in response to the agricultural threat posed by declining pollinator health. Other funding is coming from participating universities, Project Apis m. and in-kind support from a number of regional beekeepers.

The Honey Bee Health Coalition, a diverse network of key groups dedicated to improving the health of honey bees and other pollinators, also will provide their expertise to facilitate the researchers’ efforts.

Insect pollinators contribute an estimated $24 billion to the U.S. economy annually, according to FFAR. Honey bees specifically pollinate about 100 crops in the United States. Varroa mites have become resistant to many commercially available chemical control agents in recent years.

The Agricultural Research Service is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific in-house research agency. Daily, ARS focuses on solutions to agricultural problems affecting America. Each dollar invested in agricultural research results in $20 of economic impact.



From PestNetfresh fruit logoffp



Chile: Medfly outbreak in Valparaiso region

March 13 , 2018

An outbreak of Mediterranean fruit fly (Medfly) has been discovered in Chile’s Valparaiso region, in a rural area of a commune that lies to the north of the capital Santiago.

Eight insects were found in traps in the commune of Los Andes, and authorities have now established a 7.2-kilometer control area. Additional traps have also been placed and contingency plans have been implemented.

There have been numerous Medfly detections in recent months, with authorities finding an insect in the eastern Santiago suburbof Las Condes in December, and the following month finding 16 Medflies in San Bernardo to the capital’s southwest.

The Agricultural and Livestock Service (SAG) said the recent detections had been made thanks to the surveillance network present throughout Chile.

“There was an opportune detection, thanks to the trapping system that the institution has throughout the country and thanks to our personnel who acted quickly,” SAG national director Angel Sartori said.

“To control and eradicate this outbreak we ask for collaboration from the people in facilitating the entry of inspectors into their homes to carry out the necessary treatments for these cases.

“In addition, we reiterate that people who travel outside of the country must not enter Chile with products that are not authorized by SAG, as they can put our agriculture at risk.”

The Medfly is one of the most damaging agricultural pests in the world, attacking more than 250 species of fruit and vegetables.




New IPM coalition

The Plantwise Blog


New coalition puts knowledge and skills into the hands of those who need it


CABI has joined forces with the ISEAL Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Coalition in the fight to implement better, less chemical-dependent, ways for farmers to manage agricultural pests and diseases that account for around 40% of lost crops worldwide. By linking with the Plantwise Knowledge Bank, the coalition aims to share knowledge on sustainable pest management strategies, strengthen knowledge exchanges on alternative methods for pest management, as well as identifying and focusing on specific pest-disease.

Cambria Finegold, Global Director, Knowledge Management, at CABI, said, “One of the ways in which CABI works to help the 500 million smallholder farmers around the world grow more and lose less is to present them with the latest knowledge and advise on how to tackle devastating pest and diseases. “Our partnership with the ISEAL IPM Coalition is a major step forward in disseminating the very best in information and expertise into the hands of those who need it to grow healthy and sustainable crops but also protect their livelihoods.”

Other areas of cooperation as part of the new agreement includes exploring the possibilities to train Plantwise plant doctors  on sustainability standards and promote the exchange of knowledge and experiences on integrated pest management. The partnership will also explore the possibilities to implement pest-specific integrated pest management events and workshops as well as sharing examples of good practice and alternatives to pesticides.

For the IPM coalition, the technical and field experience of nine standard systems covering many countries and diverse production systems combined with Plantwise’s rich information about alternative pest control methods provide a great opportunity for technicians of farms, fields and forests to responsibly offer the best available information for least toxic chemical or non-chemical pest control methods. The dissemination of this upgraded information package to thousands of stakeholders of the IPM coalition members will not only lead to transparent information about sustainable pest management, but most importantly contribute to a more informed selection of pest control alternatives with the least environmental and human impacts.

The IPM Integrated Pest Management Coalition is composed by ISEAL Alliance members: Better Cotton InitiativeBonsucroFairtrade InternationalForest Stewardship CouncilGlobal Coffee PlatformRoundtable on Sustainable BiomaterialsGolf Environment OrganizationSustainable Agriculture Network and Rainforest Alliance. The overall long term goal of the coalition is to reduce or eliminate the use of Highly Hazardous Pesticides and to achieve a significant reduction of pesticide risks to health and the environment with effective standard and certification system’s tools.

For more information on the coalition, visit http://www.ipm-coalition.org

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Kansas State University Researchers Make Breakthrough Toward Understanding Glyphosate Resistance in Pigweeds

 Article ID: 690983

Released: 12-Mar-2018 6:05 PM EDT

  • Credit: Kansas State University

  • Kansas State University researchers have discovered the mechanism by which weeds develop resistance to glyphosate, an herbicide. Their work could lead to improved weed control strategies and improved production in farm fields and other areas where weeds affect plants and crops. Pictured, left to right, are Mithila Jugulam, Dal-Hoe Koo, Bernd Friebe and Bikram Gill.

Newswise — MANHATTAN, Kan. – Kansas State University researchers have discovered how weeds develop resistance to the popular herbicide glyphosate, a finding that could have broad future implications in agriculture and many other industries.

Their work is detailed in an article that appears in the March 12 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, known as PNAS and considered to be one of the most-cited journals for scientific research in the world. According to its website, PNAS receives more than 21 million hits per month.

“Herbicide resistance in weeds has been a huge problem, not only in Kansas and the U.S. but many parts of the world,” said Mithila Jugulam, a K-State weed scientist and co-author of the PNAS article.

“What we found that was new was how these weeds have evolved resistance to glyphosate in such a short time. If you look at the evolution of glyphosate resistance in Palmer amaranth, based on our research, it appears to have occurred very rapidly.”

Palmer amaranth and common waterhemp are the two troublesome pigweeds in Kansas agricultural fields, as well as other parts of the United States. Glyphosate – the key ingredient in the popular Roundup brand – is the herbicide that is widely used for controlling many weeds. But Jugulam notes that glyphosate resistance is becoming more prevalent in many states.

“We found that glyphosate-resistant Palmer amaranth plants carry the glyphosate target gene in hundreds of copies,” Jugulam said. “Therefore, even if you applied an amount much higher than the recommended dose of glyphosate, the plants would not be killed.”

Bikram Gill, director of Kansas State University’s Wheat Genetics Resource Center who has worked in plant genetics for nearly 50 years, said the researchers knew pretty quickly that the genetic makeup of resistant weeds was different.

“Normally, the genetic material in all organisms – including humans – is found in long, linear DNA molecules, called chromosomes,” said Gill, another co-author of the study. “But when (K-State researchers) Dal-Hoe Koo and Bernd Friebe, the chromosome experts on the team, looked at these glyphosate-resistant weeds, the glyphosate target gene, along with other genes actually escaped from the chromosomes and formed a separate, self-replicating circular DNA structure.”

Scientists refer to this structure as extra-chromosomal circular DNA (eccDNA). Each eccDNA has one copy of the gene that produces an enzyme that is the target for glyphosate.

“Because of the presence of hundreds of eccDNAs in each cell, the amount of the enzyme is also abundant,” Gill said. “Therefore, the plant is not affected by glyphosate application and the weed is resistant to the herbicide.”

Gill said the indications are that once a weed has acquired eccDNA, the resistance may evolve as quickly as in one generation.

“We think that the resistance via eccDNA is transitory: It can be passed to the weed’s offspring and other related weed species,” he said. “We have somehow caught it in between becoming permanently resistant. Eventually, we think that these eccDNAs can be incorporated into the linear chromosome. If that happens, then they will become resistant forever.”

The same K-State group recently published research on common waterhemp in the scientific journal, Plant Physiology, reporting that “a portion of the linear chromosome containing the target gene broke to form a ring chromosome carrying several copies of the glyphosate target gene,” according to Jugulam.

Armed with their new knowledge, the researchers can begin work on developing strategies to negate resistance in weeds.

“It’s been known that these circular DNA/chromosomal structures can be unstable,” Jugulam said. “What we want to explore is, for example, if we do not apply glyphosate repeatedly or reduce the selection by glyphosate, can we make these ring-structured chromosomes unstable and once again make these plants susceptible to glyphosate.”

The research team notes that farmers should incorporate best management strategies – such as rotating herbicides and crops – to reduce weed pressure: “This may allow evolving resistance to dissipate as we know that these eccDNAs and ring chromosomes are unstable and can be lost in the absence of herbicide selection pressure,” Jugulam said.

“Glyphosate has a lot of good characteristics as an herbicide molecule,” she added. “The recommendations that K-State and many others are promoting is ‘do not abuse glyphosate.’ Use the recommended integrated weed management strategies so that we do not lose the option of using glyphosate for the sustainability of our agriculture.”

Funding for this research was provided in part by grants from the Kansas Wheat Commission; the Kansas Crop Improvement Association; a National Science Foundation grant received through the Wheat Genetics Resource Center; the K-State Department of Agronomy (College of Agriculture); and USDA’s Agricultural Research Service. Kansas State University worked in collaboration with researchers at Clemson University, the USDA Agricultural Research Service (Mississippi) and Michigan State University.

The full article can be accessed on the website for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Genome editor CRISPR

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Science News Daily Alert

The genome editor CRISPR cuts DNA with help from a guide RNA (green and red) and a Cas9 enzyme (outline) that latches onto a three-base sequence (yellow).


Upgrade makes genome editor CRISPR more muscular, precise

You wouldn’t know it from the excitement generated by the revolutionary genome editing method known as CRISPR, but as practiced now, it is far from perfect. Its standard components can find and cut DNA in only a limited fraction of the genome, and its molecular scissors are wobbly, leading to “off-target” mutations. Many groups are trying to do better, and now, a team led by chemist David Liu at Harvard University has engineered a version of CRISPR that potentially is both more dexterous and more precise.

“This is very impressive and important work,” says CRISPR pioneer Erik Sontheimer of the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester.

CRISPR comes in many flavors, but they all depend on a guide molecule composed of RNA to carry a DNA-cutting enzyme—the most commonly used one is known by the shorthand Cas9—to a specific stretch of the genome. This complex, however, homes in on DNA landing pads that have specific molecular features. The enzyme in the standard CRISPR toolkit, called spCas9 for its natural source, the bacterium Streptococcus pyogenes, can only land on genome segments that have at one end a specific three-base trio: N, where N is any of DNA’s four bases, followed by two guanines (Gs). Only about one-sixteenth of the 3.2-billion-base human genome has the right sequence. “That’s been a real limitation,” Liu says.

The new work, reported online in the 28 February issue of Nature, modifies the Cas9 enzyme, creating at least four times as many potential docking sites. In theory, this could allow researchers to, say, cripple or replace many parts of genes associated with human disease that CRISPR currently cannot touch.

Liu’s lab began by engineering a large variety of slightly altered spCas9s. The group then selected for ones that could use a broader range of the 64 possible, three-base landing pads—technically referred to as protospacer adjacent motifs, or PAMs. They’ve dubbed their new enzymes xCas9s, and the best one works with NGN, a sequence that occurs in one-fourth of the genome.

Liu expected that in return for gaining the ability to latch onto more places, xCas9 would pay a penalty: more of the potentially dangerous off-target cuts that concern researchers hoping to unleash CRISPR in medicine. After all, conventional thinking holds that Cas9, naturally part of a bacterial immune strategy, evolved to be as promiscuous in its DNA binding as it could be without compromising specificity. “PAM binding is supposed to be the gatekeeper, and if your gatekeeper is drunk and lets lots of Cas9 into the dance, that should screw up the targeting,” Liu explains. But the opposite happened. “If you ask me for a detailed mechanistic explanation for why that is, my answer is, ‘I don’t know,’” he says.

Stanley Qi, a CRISPR researcher at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, says this win-win situation is “amazing,” and should excite many labs. “The real test here is if people rush to use this xCas9 while forgetting about the original version,” Qi says. “At least in my lab, we are very eager to try this out for our applications.”

Liu cautions that the standard Cas9 has proved itself over the years; his lab has only tested the new xCas9 on a few dozen sites in the genome so far, compared with the thousands the original has been shown to hit. “I’m not 100% sure xCas9 is going to be flat out better than spCas9,” Liu says. “I want everyone to test it because I want to know the answer.”


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

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

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

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

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

Fall Armyworm in Africa

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Partnering to Combat Fall Armyworm in Africa

The Fall Armyworm is an invasive crop pest that is rapidly spreading across Africa, threatening maize harvests in particular, and food security more broadly.

The good news is, we largely know how to solve this issue. The Americas have successfully controlled the pest and have a lot of know-how and experiences to share. By working together, we can help Africa tackle this challenge and build resilience to manage future agricultural threats.

Governments, businesses, civil society, the research community, and foundations must work together to assist Africans in combatting Fall Armyworm. To effectively manage this food security threat, we need to help African countries and farmers respond rapidly and prevent major damage before it greatly affects the world’s food supply and exacerbates global poverty and hunger.

Learn more about this crop pest, why it’s a problem, and what we’re doing about it in this fact sheet.

Fall Armyworm Facts:

  • In Africa, the Fall Armyworm’s presence is confirmed in 28 countries and suspected in 9 additional countries (FAO, December 2017).
  • The Fall Armyworm feeds on over 80 different crops including maize, rice, sorghum and sugarcane (CABI, September 2017).
  • It could cause losses of 8.3 million to 20.6 million metric tons of maize in 12 African countries annually (CABI, September 2017), which could feed 40.8 million to 101 million people.

Be a Part of the Solution

Fall Armyworm Tech Prize: Feed the Future and its partners will be looking for digital solutions that help identify and provide actionable information on how to treat the Fall Armyworm in Africa, considering countries’ policies and laws, as well as cultural context. We have two ways for you to get involved in supporting solutions that empower smallholder farmers to effectively manage the threat of Fall Armyworm.

  • Have a relevant innovation that could help? Click here to learn more about submitting your solution. We encourage innovators from around the world to apply!
  • Interested in supporting this effort? We are also seeking partners interested in providing financial, technical and other in-kind support. Email fallarmyworm@usaid.gov to connect with us.

Fall Armyworm Guidance and Related Resources

Fall Armyworm in Africa: A Guide for Integrated Pest Management (First Edition)

In collaboration with international and national research and development partners, Feed the Future developed this Fall Armyworm Technical Guide to share the latest protocols related to integrated pest management to control this pest. We intend to revise and release subsequent editions of this Technical Manual as more evidence emerges on effective management of Fall Armyworm.

Fact Sheet: Combatting Fall Armyworm

Feed the Future strengthens the capacity of African communities, institutions and governments to manage the Fall Armyworm through a range of sustainable and effective integrated pest management strategies that protect people and the environment. Learn more in this fact sheet.

Press Release: USAID Administrator Green Announces Call to Action, New Private Sector Partnerships

In a keynote address at the annual World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa, United States Agency for International Development Administrator Mark Green announced a call to action to combat the Fall Armyworm. Check out this press release to learn more.

Map of Areas affected by Fall Armyworm

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, December 2017.

Plant Protection EBA Data in Action Technical Brief

This brief, authored by the Feed the Future Enabling Environment for Food Security project, offers timely considerations for mitigating and addressing Fall Armyworm in Africa in the near and long term.