New funding for biocontrol research

Plant & Food Research has received funding for four new Smart Ideas projects in this year’s Endeavour funding round.

Each of the projects looks at new ways to control pests that reduce reliance on chemical pesticides – by developing a new method for efficient breeding of natural insect enemies; using predatory bat calls as a way to deter insect pests from crops; developing a chemical lure for spiders that simulates sex pheromones; and developing rootstocks with intrinsic resistance to pests and diseases.

Each project has received $1 million over 3 years to develop the concept. Plant & Food Research scientists are also collaborators on a number of other Smart Ideas projects, including developing products from seaweed for use in tissue engineering (with the University of Otago); developing new technologies for reducing contamination in cellular agriculture (with AgResearch); developing new packaging methods that sense spoilage of seafood products (with AUT); and developing a new control for the bee parasite Varroa destructor (with University of Auckland).

The Endeavour Fund, administered by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), invests in research ideas with transformative potential. Smart Ideas funding catalyses and rapidly tests promising, innovative research ideas with high potential for benefit to New Zealand.

Led by Gonzalo Avila
A multidisciplinary collaborative team of experts from China, USA and Aotearoa-NZ will share, develop and enhance research efforts to develop a world-first ‘artificial egg’ prototype that mimics an insect egg, providing a novel way to rear egg parasitoids in vitro.

Egg parasitoids lay their eggs in other insects’ eggs, thereby killing the host. They are natural enemies of insect pests and can be used to reduce or eradicate such pests. The successful development of this technology will provide a cheaper, more efficient and sustainable means for mass producing egg parasitoids to use against invasive pest insects and will help accelerate the reduction/elimination of pesticide use.

The project will use the brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) and its natural predator, the Samurai wasp, as a model system.

Led by Flore Mas and Adriana Najar-Rodriguez
A team from Plant & Food Research, Otago University, Japan, Australia and New Caledonia will determine the potential for deterring insect pests from eating crops by combining predatory bat ultrasounds to ‘push’ insects away from crops (putting speakers in fields), with smells that insects find attractive to ‘pull’ them away from crops (putting the scents adjacent to fields).

The team will decipher how insects make decisions when simultaneously faced with deterrents and attractants. This new knowledge will be useful beyond the project, in helping develop new ways of managing insect pests.

Led by Andrew Twidle
This proof-of-concept Smart Idea will provide a novel, species-specific solution to the invasive redback spider problem. Australian redback spiders pose a serious health risk to humans and an extinction threat to native fauna in New Zealand. Current manual-based control tools are not working and precious species, such as the critically endangered Cromwell chafer beetle, will soon be lost to redback spiders unless something is done.

The project will identify the long-range sex pheromone of the redback spiders, then develop a dispenser and trapping system to ‘lure and kill’ them. Very few spider pheromones have been identified worldwide and their use as pest management tools has not been reported.

The ‘lure and kill’ technique will be particularly effective since redback males can only mate once because of their ritualised suicide during copulation (the female eats them), hence every male attracted to the trap represents a potential batch of spiderlings prevented.

Led by Ross Bicknell
New Zealand wine grapes are typically grafted onto a rootstock to provide protection against phylloxera, a root pest which is found in all our grape-growing regions. The rootstocks used for this were developed from breeding efforts in Europe in the 1880s, a time when European viticulturists were facing catastrophic losses because of the arrival of this pest from America.

Scientists at Plant & Food Research and the Bragato Research Institute have been researching the role that rootstocks play in controlling other insects as well, in particular sap-sucking insects that transmit damaging viruses throughout the vineyard. They have noted that grapes form a range of unique molecules that act as insect feeding-deterrents, and these circulate throughout the plant body.

This project aims to chemically identify these molecules, establish how and where they are produced and how much is needed in the plant to fully deter sap-sucking insects. The long-term aim is to develop new rootstocks for use in New Zealand that control not only phylloxera infestation, but many other insects and diseases as well.

Source:   Plant & Food Research

Author: Bob Edlin

Editor of AgScience Magazine and Editor of the AgScience Blog