Posts Tagged ‘Brazil’

September 30, 2014


A plant in Brazil’s sandy interior gets its protein through a new strategy.
Originally published: Jan 9 2012 – 4:15pm
By: Katharine Gammon, ISNS Contributor
(ISNS) — Plants eat the darndest things.

Scientists have discovered a small flowering plant living in the sandy soils of Brazil that traps nematodes, or roundworms, with sticky underground leaves — and gobbles them up.

“It’s a great example of how plants, which can’t move to find food and water, are able to develop interesting mechanisms to deal [with] extreme environments,” said Rafael Oliveira, a professor of botany at the State University of Campinas, in Sao Paulo, in Brazil, who described the plant in research published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The plant, called Philcoxia minensis, lives in sandy soils in a tiny region of the Cerrado, a tropical savannah region in Brazil. In addition to regular leaves which are suspended above ground and use the energy of the sun to convert carbon dioxide into sugars, Philcoxia also has a network of tiny underground leaves, each about the size of a pinhead, able to grab sunlight through the white sandy soil.

Those underground leaves also have a darker purpose: they contain glands
secreting a sticky mucus that traps tiny worms and starts to digest them.

To test if the plant was truly digesting the worms or simply trapping them to create more organic matter in the soil, the scientists fed the plants lab-raised nematodes that were marked with an uncommon isotope of nitrogen, a form that contains eight neutrons instead of the usual seven. They then tested the hungry plant’s leaves, and found the same stable isotope present — telling them that the worms were indeed digested with enzymes and not just broken down by microbes in the soil.

Oliveira first learned about Philcoxia from a colleague who had visited the remote site where it lives and described a plant with underground leaves. “I had never seen a plant with underground leaves before,” he said. “It doesn’t make a lot of sense to have leaves underground because there is less sunlight — so we hypothesized they’re getting some other kind of benefit from the leaves.”

The discovery is also a call for more conservation in the Cerrado, one of the world’s 34 biodiversity hotspots and the region where Oliveira was born. He said that while most efforts to preserve plants and animals focus on the rainforest, other fascinating ecosystems like the Cerrado don’t often get much attention – or conservation.

Carnivorous plants are often found in tough environments with few nutrients, a deficit they make up with protein from insects, or even small rodents as in the case of a type of pitcher plant. Protein-devouring plants seem to capture the imagination of everyone, and fortunately for Hollywood, there are likely many more waiting to be discovered.

“Carnivorous plants are like orchids: there is a lot of interest in finding more plants,” said Aaron Ellison, a researcher at Harvard Forest in Petersham, Mass.. “I suspect as we look for more, “we’ll find more than the 600 or so spread across the plant world.”

On the other hand, said Ellison, almost all plants get their nutrients from organic matter somehow. They just don’t directly trap and digest it.

“There are certainly other plants with modified underground leaves that are carnivorous in some way — some eat protozoa, others eat zooplankton or small insects,” said Ellison. He added that welcoming another carnivorous plant into a new family, especially one that has the ability to trap and eat nematodes with sticky leaves, is good for natural history.

Barry Rice, a carnivorous plant expert at Sierra College, in Rocklin, Calif., who previously worked at the Nature Conservancy, said Philcoxia’s sticky underground leaves are a novel — and surprising — strategy. “What else have we missed? It never stops to embarrass me that we spend so little on exploring our own planet.”

Katharine Gammon is a freelance science writer based in Santa Monica, California. She writes for a wide range of national magazines about technology, society and animal science

Science category: Animals Biology Environment
News section: Inside Science News Service

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Genetically modified fruit flies deliberately engineered to kill themselves off could help save fruit crops by controlling the pest population without the need for pesticides. That’s the assertion of Oxitec fruit fly team leader Dr. Martha Koukidou, who spoke with www.freshfruitportal.com about the benefits of introducing these flies into the agricultural sector. In opposition is policy research and public interest group GeneWatch. Here, we take a look at both sides.

Mediterranean fruit fly trials are to be carried out in Brazil following official approval for the Oxitec project to take further steps for development.

The National Technical Biosafety Commission, a multidisciplinary body that advises the Brazilian government on biosafety matters, has given the green light for the Oxitec netted field experiments.

The U.K. pioneer in controlling insects that spread disease and damage crops is now putting together further work before those trials actually happen.

Koukidou explains how the current line of defense against pests like fruit flies is insecticides, but the project’s aim is to reduce this usage and save crops as well.

The Oxitec GM fruit flies have a gene which interrupts female development and will only reproduce male offspring.

“We have developed a method whereby you release males in the environment and basically they seek and mate with the wild native females, but all of their daughters will die,” she tells http://www.freshfruitportal.com.

“If you eliminate the females from any given population you are causing the whole population to reduce because it doesn’t matter how many males you have out there, it’s really the females that matter.

“In the case of fruit flies, it is the females that cause damage to agriculture by laying eggs into a fruit, lets say an olive, a peach or whatever else and this egg will develop and hatch larvae, usually maggots; we don’t want to see that in the fruit.

The fruit then becomes prone to secondary infection as the pest tunnels its way through, leaving a hole that is open to bacteria.

“By releasing males and males only that means we do not cause any additional damage to agriculture because the males mate with the wild native females and they don’t affect anything else because the whole method is based on mating.

“They need to mate with the females and by sustained periodic releases, the whole population will drop.

“We believe that this is one of the most environmentally-friendly techniques one can use because it’s totally species specific, does not rely on any chemicals, and does not leave any residue in the environment, the method is self-limiting.”

Koukidou adds that Oxitec has carried out extensive cage separation trials using established wild populations of fruit flies that demonstrated ‘complete elimination of cage population in less than three months’.

“We had excellent outcomes; so the next step for us would be to take those strains into the field.

“We know the term GM causes controversy, however if one looks closely at the technology they will see that it is species specific, it does not affect any other species or anything else in the environment because it relies on mating. And of course we know by default that one species cannot mate with another.”

GeneWatch opposes Oxitec’s fruit flies

GeneWatch director Dr. Helen Wallace has a very different opinion, believing that it’s impossible to predict the long-term outcome possibilities of releasing genetically modified fruit flies into the environment and how, over a period of time, the pests will naturally evolve a resistance to dying off and quite possibly get into the food supply.

“A major concern is that the GM fruit flies are genetically programmed to die at the late larval stage and that will be when many of the flies are still inside when the female lays the eggs,” Wallace said.

“They (Oxitec) already have been approved trials which have not yet taken place, but if those trials take place they will be releasing a GM male to outnumber the wild population by at least a factor of ten to one so we’re talking about millions of GM flies being released and mating with the wild flies.

A key question for Wallace is ‘where will the female offspring that do not survive into adulthood end up?’ and is concerned one possibility could be the food supply.

“Obviously we are concerned about environmental impacts because we’re talking about complex eco systems and a method that is very different from the irradiated flies that they (Oxitec) like to compare it with; so the irradiated ones are sterile, these ones will reproduce and only the females die so male GM adults can survive for multiple generations and it’s almost inevitable that they will spread.

“The technology also uses the antibiotic tetracycline, this is widely used in industrial agriculture and you get high concentrations of it in the environment particularly in animal faeces for example.

“So there is a very real prospect that GM flies will find contaminated areas where they can breed normally and there’s also potential for resistance to develop as the flies evolve. It would be difficult to contain this if anything went wrong.”

Photo: GM sterilization on the horizon for fruit fly fight



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The Ecologist

2nd August 2014



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Fall armywom larva in a sweetcorn ear.

Photo: Judy Baxter via Flickr






GMO corn varieties that express insecticidal Bt toxins are failing in the field, with reports of infestations of the fall armyworm on Bt corn in Brazil and the USA. Now the EU is poised to approve one of the failing varieties for use on European farms.

There are barely any non-GMO seeds available … it is very uncomfortable that the companies are blaming the farmers.

The Association of Soybean and Corn Producers of the Mato Grosso region (Aprosoja-MT) has complained that its members’ genetically modified ‘Bt corn’ crops are no longer resistant to insect pests.

That’s corn which has been genetically modified to produce an insecticidal toxin that repels or kills pests – principally Spodoptera frugiperda, also known as fall armyworm, corn leafworm or southern grassworm.

The Bt toxin is meant to provide protection to the crop without needing to be sprayed with insecticide. But reports from farmers allege that the Bt corn is actually less resistant to attack by Spodoptera caterpillars than non-GMO varieties.

Now farmers have been forced to apply insecticides to their crops, racking up additional environmental and financial costs – after having already paid a premium price for the GM corn seeds.

Deceptive advertising?

The loss of resistance to Bt corn caterpillars was identified by Aprosoja-MT in March, when the first reports of emerged from Mato Grosso producers frightened by what they saw on the field.

Aprosoja-MT began to gather technical reports with data, photos and economic analysis of producers’ financial losses, estimated at $54 per hectare in terms of extra insecticide and application costs.

The association is now calling on Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta, and Dow companies to offer solutions as well as compensate the farmers for their losses.

“We want companies point to a rapid solution to the losses and also a way to compensate those who were harmed”, says the president of Aprosoja-MT, Ricardo Tomczyk. “It is a typical case of product that promised an outcome that was never delivered – i.e., deceptive advertising”

Blame the farmers

The association has given the seed companies ten days in which to offer solutions to the problems presented by the GM varieties, as well as a way to compensate the losses faced by farmers in Mato Grosso.

But Monsanto and other seed companies are unlikely to accommodate the farmers. According to Reuters, “seed companies say they warned Brazilian farmers to plant part of their corn fields with conventional seeds to prevent bugs from mutating and developing resistance to GMO seeds.”

However Tomczyk responded that the seed companies instructions on creating insect refugia of non-GMO corn were vague and hard to follow. And in any case, he added, “There are barely any non-GMO seeds available … it is very uncomfortable that the companies are blaming the farmers.”

Aprosoja-MT is attempting to negotiate an agreement with the seed companies, but insists that farmers are ready to sue for their pesticide costs.

Not for the first time

Earlier this year, a similar problem arose in the US, when scientists confirmed that corn-destroying rootworms had evolved to be resistant to the GMO corn engineered to kill them.

And according to the non-profit TestBioTech, the GMO maize 1507 -which may soon be approved for cultivation in the European Union – is one of those now failing in Brazil.

This maize variety, developed by US companies Pioneer/DuPont and Dow, combines a Bt insecticidal protein with tolerance to glufosinate herbicides.

According to a study published in the journal Crop Protection, certain pests in Brazil are becoming resistant to this maize line only few years after market approval.

Farias et al. (2014) found resistant populations of Spodoptera in the federal states Bahia and Rio Grande del Sul. According to the authors, development of resistance in fall armyworm was first noticed in 2012, the third year after the start of cultivation of maize 1507 in Brazil.

Industry response – add more GM traits

The industry response to such loss of efficacy is not to encourage biodiversity, but to further modify the organisms, according to TestBioTech:

“The case of Brazil is an example for an overall trend showing that nearly twenty years after the start of commercialization of Bt crops, there are problems in several countries growing this kind of genetically engineered crop.

“Industry tries to tackle this issue by commercialization of so called ‘stacked traits’ that produce several different Bt toxins. The best known example is Monsanto’s SmartStax maize that produces six different Bt toxins.”

TestBioTech also argues that the European Food Standards Agency should re-consider its likely approval for maize 1507 given the fast developing resistance to it among pests, also citing “fundamental data gaps in risk assessment.”

Further information:

Farias et al. (2014), Field-evolved resistance to Cry1F maize by Spodoptera frugiperda (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) in Brazil
Industry influence in the risk assessment of genetically engineered Maize 1507 (2014)
Genetically engineered maize 1507 – Industry and EFSA are disguising true content of Bt toxin in the plants (2014)
High-Level-Risk-Maize 1507 (2013)Testbiotech figure: Bt crops: Resistance development in pest insectsA fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) caterpillar in a sweetcorn cob. Photo: Judy Baxter via Flickr.

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