Bees Look For a Balanced Diet



A study of managed bumble bees and honey bees on a blueberry farm finds that most of the pollen they collect comes from other plants, suggesting that supplementing crops with a diversity of nearby plant types makes for healthier bees. Shown here are honey bee hives near blueberry fields. (Photo by Kelsey Graham, Ph.D.)

By Andrew Porterfield

Managed bees provide a critical service to crop growers, providing pollination as the bees search for nectar and pollen for their own needs. But many crops cannot provide for all the nutritional needs of bees. In those cases, bees begin searching for alternative sources of food.

This means that beekeepers and farmers may need to find ways to provide alternate food sources for their bees—while the bees will still be attracted to crop pollen and nectar, it won’t be an exclusive relationship. But, in turn, the bees will likely be healthier. To find out how managed honey bees (Apis mellifera) and bumble bees (Bombus impatiens) seek out a balanced diet, a group of researchers from Michigan State University looked at pollination and feeding behavior of bees around blueberry crops in that state.

The team, led by Kelsey Graham, Ph.D., a research associate at Michigan State’s Entomology Department at the time of the study and now at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, determined what plants managed honey bees and bumble bees visited during high bush blueberry pollination season. They found that the most pollen collected was from plants other than blueberries, even though the blueberry bushes were the most abundant resources during the study. They also found that honey bee and bumble bee collection behavior varied a lot. Their results were published in July in Environmental Entomology.

Overhead view of a white square bowl containing a few dozen small pollen balls, varying in color from dark yellowish brown to sandy brown to medium gray and dark gray.
A researcher in a white full-body beekeeping suit kneels by a low bumble-bee hive in a grassy area near a blueberry field, holding a sampling tube. In front of the researcher on top of the hive is a clipboard with a sheet of paper and a green tray with several small vials in rows.

In 2018 and 2019, the team collected pollen from bee colonies at 14 blueberry farms in Michigan. At each field, they used a 10-frame pollen trap immediately before the start of blueberry blooming (in early or mid-May) and collected samples through the end of the bloom (early to mid-June). At the same time, the researchers placed bumble bee colonies at the margin of each site, far enough away from the honey bee colonies to prevent raiding and robbing. The team used microscopes to identify the plant sources of the pollen.

Perhaps typical for them, bumble bees collected pollen from a wider range of plant species than did honey bees. Honey bees collected 21 pollen types in both 2018 and 2019. Bumble bees, however, collected 29 types in 2018 and 52 pollen types in 2019.

Surprisingly, common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), an invasive species native to Europe and Asia, was one of the most abundant pollens collected by both types of bees. Willow (Salix spp.) was another. “Collection is likely from an invasive species in this area of Michigan, though there are some native species they could be visiting,” says Graham. “I think it surprises people to find out that blueberry pollen was not a dominant pollen collected by honey bees. While honey bees still provide pollination services for this crop through some pollen collection and nectar visits, it’s not a preferred pollen type.”

Microscope image of pollen grains from highbush blueberry. In the center of the image are two clumps of several round grains, purple in color. A scale bar indicates each clump is approximately 45 microns in diameter. Accompanying text reads "Vaccinium corymbosum (Blueberry cultivar), Highbush Blueberry, Michael Killewald, Isaacs Lab, Michigan State University, 2017, 400X."
Microscope image of pollen grains from common buckthorn. Toward the right of the image is a group of nine grains, purple in color and mostly triangular in shape with rounded corners. A tenth grain sits alone to the left. A scale bar indicates each grain is approximately 20 microns in diameter. Accompanying text reads "Rhamnus cathartica, Common Buckthorn, Michael Killewald, Isaacs Lab, Michigan State University, 400X, 2017."
Microscope image of pollen grains from black cherry. In the center of the image are six grains, purple in color and mostly triangular in shape with rounded corners. A scale bar indicates each grain is approximately 25 microns in diameter. Accompanying text reads "Prunus serotina, Black Cherry, Michael Killewald, Col. Tom Wood, Isaacs Lab, Michigan State University, 400X, 2017."

Although blueberry is a pollen-dependent crop that relies on managed and wild bees to yield fruit, blueberry pollen is not particularly nutritious for bees. Pollen provides proteins, fats, sterols, and micronutrients to support adult bee and brood health. However, the protein content of blueberry pollen is 13.9 percent, too low to sustain a healthy honey bee colony.

Therefore, bees will forage for other nutritional resources. Meanwhile, other studies have shown that a diversity of pollinators can improve pollination services for plants.

Graham and her team also studied whether landscape diversity influenced foraging behavior, but it appeared to have no effect on the diversity of pollen the bees collected. In other words, bees sought out a multitude of pollen types, even if they had to go further to find it. “This definitely suggests that honey bees and bumble bees are making foraging decisions based on floral characteristics and nutrition rather than just what they come across in the landscape,” Graham says.

The potential downside, though, to a predominantly crop landscape is that, as at least one other study has shown, the additional energy expended to collect pollen from other plants may reduce brood production.

“It’s somewhat rare that a single pollen source can fulfill all macro and micro nutritional requirements,” Graham says. “So, in landscapes where the crop is the primary plant available, supplemental plants through pollinator plantings or preserving natural habitats near farms can provide a large benefit to bees.”

Read More

Identity and diversity of pollens collected by two managed bee species while in blueberry fields for pollination

Environmental Entomology

Andrew Porterfield is a writer, editor, and communications consultant for academic institutions, companies, and nonprofits in the life sciences. He is based in Camarillo, California. Follow him on Twitter at @AMPorterfield or visit his Facebook page.



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 apis melliferabee foraging landscapeblueberryBombus impatiensbumble beesenvironmental entomologyforaginghoney beesKelsey Grahammanaged honey beesnectarpollenpollination



The arms race between crop plants and fungal pathogens


by Mia von Scheven, Max Planck Society

Blumeria graminis AVR effectors adopt a common structural scaffold. (A) Cartoon representation of the crystal structures of AVRA6, AVRA7, AVRA10, AVRA22, and AVRPM2. The effectors exhibit a canonical (α+β) RNase-like fold. (B) Disulfide bonds are conserved in Blumeria AVRs. AVRA6, AVRA7, AVRA10, AVRA22, and AVRPM2 form intramolecular disulfide bridges that connect the N and C termini. The disulfide bridge is indicated in the density map. (C) Amino acid sequences alignment of AVRA6, AVRA7, AVRA10, AVRA22, and AVRPM2 without signal peptides. Red background indicates amino acid similarity. The alignment was generated using ESPript 3.0 (46). (D) Maximum likelihood phylogeny including all predicted CSEPs from B. graminis f. sp. Poae, lolium, avenae, tritici 96224, hordei DH14, secalis S1459, triticale T1-20, and dactylidis. AVRA6, AVRA7, AVRA10, AVRA22, and AVRPM2 are widely separated in the phylogeny. (E) Superposition of AVRA6, AVRA7, AVRA10, AVRA22, and AVRPM2.. Credit: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2023). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2307604120

Many cereal crops, such as wheat and barley, are prey to devastating fungal diseases caused by infection with so-called grass powdery mildews. A key battleground between the plants and the powdery mildews is the interaction between plant immune receptors and pathogen effectors, molecules which are delivered into host cells by pathogens to establish infection.

These effectors and immune receptors are locked in a molecular arms race in which the fungus needs to continuously adapt its effector repertoire to avoid recognition by adapted immune receptors and maintain virulence activity.

However, the structures and functions of these numerous effectors—which can run into the hundreds for individual fungal lineages—remain incompletely characterized.

Now, scientists from Germany, Switzerland and China led by Paul Schulze-Lefert, director at the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research in Cologne and Jijie Chai who holds positions at Westlake University, Hangzhou and Tsinghua University, both in China, have reported the structures of several powdery mildew effectors from different subfamilies.

These structures show how effectors adopt a common structural scaffold with some local variations that allow them to evade recognition by immune receptors. Their findings are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Using X-ray crystallography, a technique that allows scientists to deduce the positions of atoms in a molecule based on electron density, first authors Yu Cao and Florian Kümmel and colleagues acquired structures for five different effectors from two different powdery mildews that infect barley and wheat. Strikingly, although the similarity between the effectors was very low at the level of DNA sequence, they were all found to adopt a common structural fold, known as RALPH after RNase-like proteins associated with haustoria.

Analysis of these structures revealed that they are indeed similar to that of RNase proteins, enzymes that bind to, and break down RNA molecules. Intriguingly, however, these effectors do not possess any RNase activity. Instead, the authors suggest that this common fold RALPH framework may be important for critical processes related to infection, such as assembly into functional effectors and the ability to cross biological membranes. The local structural changes in the RALPH scaffold may explain why the effectors can associate with different host proteins to allow infection.

Armed with an understanding of the structural template of a RALPH effector, the researchers then set out to determine whether they could engineer recognition between immune receptors and effectors in instances where effector divergence had led to immune escape.

Strikingly, they found that six amino acid substitutions were sufficient to turn a sequence-diverged effector into one that was recognized by a specific immune receptor. Analysis of further effector-receptor pairs allowed the authors to conclude that each immune receptor detects largely distinct patches on the surface of its corresponding effector.

“It is one of the eureka moments of science when, in evolution, the molecular arms race between plants and pathogens can be explained by local structural changes within a shared three-dimensional protein architecture,” says Paul Schulze-Lefert.

More information: Yu Cao et al, Structural polymorphisms within a common powdery mildew effector scaffold as a driver of coevolution with cereal immune receptors, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2023). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2307604120

Journal information: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 

Provided by Max Planck Society 

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Plants can skip the middlemen and directly recognize disease-causing fung


Aphids make tropical milkweed less inviting to monarch butterflies




Peer-Reviewed Publication


Many gardeners will tell you that aphids are the bane of their existence. According to a new study from the University of Florida, these tiny pests also pose problems for the iconic monarch butterfly. The study found that when oleander aphids infested tropical milkweed — a nonnative milkweed species commonly used across southern portions of the U.S. stretching from California to Florida — the butterflies laid fewer eggs on the plants, and caterpillars developing on those plants were slower to mature.

Monarch butterflies depend on milkweed and its close relatives to complete their life cycle. The study’s findings suggest that when aphids attack tropical milkweed, they compromise this monarch resource.

“Around the country, efforts are underway to plant milkweed in urban areas to support monarch populations. We know that aphids and similar insect pests commonly reach high densities on plants, including milkweed, in urban settings. Our study helps us better understand how such pest outbreaks may affect monarch survival on the most

common ornamental milkweed species produced and planted in the South,” said Adam Dale, senior author of the study and an associate professor in the UF/IFAS entomology and nematology department.

Throughout the southern U.S., tropical milkweed is commonly used both to attract and support monarchs and as an ornamental plant, and many nurseries and big box stories carry it. However, milkweed often harbors oleander aphids, a type of aphid that goes after oleander and milkweed plants. Oleander aphids suck the sap out of the plants, stunting them and leaving behind a moldy residue.

“It’s long been known that oleander aphids flock to milkweed, especially in nurseries and urban areas, and that led us to wonder if and how that affected the monarchs who used these plants,” said Bernie Mach, first author of the study and a postdoctoral researcher in the UF/IFAS entomology and nematology department.

While the study did not investigate exactly why aphid-infested plants are poorer hosts for monarchs, the scientists say that past research on how aphids affect tropical milkweed, combined with their findings, offers some clues.

“Milkweed defends itself against pests with chemical compounds in its sap called cardenolides — this chemical is actually what makes monarch butterflies toxic to certain predators,” Mach explained. “Tropical milkweed has particularly high levels of cardenolides that ramp up even more when it is attacked by large infestations of oleander aphids. We think that these ramped up levels may deter monarchs from laying eggs on these plants and also affect their caterpillars.”

However, one point is clear: Aphid-free tropical milkweed appears to give monarchs a better chance at success.

In the study, the researchers grew tropical milkweed in a nursery setting, introducing aphids to one group of plants while keeping another group aphid-free. The researchers released monarch butterflies around each group of plants, then counted the eggs the butterflies laid on the plants. The butterflies laid three times as many eggs on aphid-free plants as they did on aphid-infested plants.

The researchers also monitored the development of the caterpillars that hatched out of those eggs. At the end of the experiment, caterpillars on aphid-free plants ate twice as much leaf material as caterpillars on aphid-infested plants. All caterpillars on aphid-free plants grew to full size, while most of those on the aphid-infested plants lagged behind or died.

For home gardeners in the southern U.S. who want to conserve monarch butterflies through landscaping, the authors note that native milkweed species like swamp milkweed have lower cardenolide levels, and other research has shown that monarchs do well on these plants even when aphid levels are high. For those who want to use tropical milkweed as a way to help monarch butterflies, the researchers share a simple but effective way to control oleander aphids: insecticidal soap.

“Spraying the aphids directly with insecticidal soap — while avoiding monarch caterpillars and butterflies — is an effective way to keep oleander aphids down and help tropical milkweed stay in better shape,” Mach said.

However, insecticidal soap isn’t always a feasible option in a nursery where growers are trying to keep hundreds or thousands of plants aphid-free, Dale said. In the next phase of this research, Dale and Mach will investigate pest management options that keep aphids at low levels and aren’t harmful to monarch butterflies.






USDA Research Identifies Moths that Slow the Spread of Invasive Fern


Southeast Asian fern-feeding larva or caterpillar. (Photo by John Goolsby, ARS)USDA Research Identifies Moths that Slow the Spread of Invasive FernFor media inquiries contact: Autumn Canaday, (202) 669-5480

July 27, 2023The invasive Old World Climbing Fern was introduced to Florida’s ecosystem from southeast Asia around 1965. It soon dominated the state’s native vegetation, infesting more than 100,000 acres in a short amount of time. The fern spreads quickly and has destroyed numerous native plant populations, smothering trees and shrubs with vines that can grow up to 90 feet in length. You’ll now find this invasive fern throughout south and central Florida, specifically in wetlands and other habitats like the Everglades tree islands, bald cypress domes, and sawgrass prairies.USDA-Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), Australian Biological Control Laboratory (ABCL), scientists began to search for a way to solve this agricultural challenge and soon found an answer to slow the fern’s spread.ARS and ABCL researchers collected, identified, and tested caterpillars feeding on the Old World climbing fern in its native habitat. One species of fern-feeding snout moth, Neomusotima conspurcatalis, commonly known as the Brown lygodium moth,is a member of the subfamily of Musotiminae and has been a successful deterrent to this invasive fern.  The Musotiminae belongs to the Crambidae family that have protruding labial palpi, or “noses,” giving the family the common name of “snout moths.” Most of the moths that ARS researchers discovered in southeast Asia were snout moths, which at that time, belonged to a subfamily that had not been studied by the Agency.  “Early detection of potential invasive species is crucial so USDA can quickly implement strategies that protect U.S. agriculture, forestry, and the environment,” said ARS researcher Alma Solis. “This study led to the discovery of a number of new fern-feeding species and the identity of their caterpillars, which were previously unknown to science.”ARS researchers studied the snout moth’s external wing patterns, dissected its insides, specifically the genitalia and wings, and compared it to other southeast Asian moth species. All of the snout moth’s immature stages, including larvae, and pupae, had never been seen before and were considered new to science. The research team also compiled a chart to compare adult and immature morphologies, host plants, and geographic distribution of the fern-feeding species. The findings permitted ARS to create criteria for biological control workers across the globe to distinguish Musotiminae species in their own countries or eco-systems. The snout moth was later introduced to Florida and slowed the spread of the Old World Climbing Fern with their eating habits.ARS researchers, and research partners for the state of Florida, continue to study the interactions of snout moths with parasites, predators, and fungi. Together they are working together to deter the spread of this invasive fern throughout the nation and protect America’s native vegetation.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 U.S. agricultural research results in $20 of economic impact.


Scientists Revive 46,000-Year-Old Nematodes From Siberian Permafrost


Tuesday, 01 August 2023 15:44:22


Grahame Jackson posted a new submission ‘Scientists Revive 46,000-Year-Old Nematodes From Siberian Permafrost’


Scientists Revive 46,000-Year-Old Nematodes From Siberian Permafrost



Scientists discovered ancient nematodes in the Siberian Permafrost, one of which was identified as a previously undescribed species, Panagrolaimus kolymaensis. The nematodes demonstrated similar survival mechanisms to the model nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. The research indicates that nematodes have developed ways to preserve life over geological time periods, potentially informing conservation strategies in the face of global warming. Credit: Alexei V. Tchesunov and Anastasia Shatilovich / Institute of Physicochemical and Biological Problems in Soil Science RAS

An international research team shows that a newly discovered nematode species from the Pleistocene share a molecular toolkit for survival with the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans.

Some organisms, such as tardigrades, rotifers, and nematodes, can survive harsh conditions by entering a dormant state known as “cryptobiosis.” In 2018, researchers from the Institute of Physicochemical and Biological Problems in Soil Science RAS in Russia found two roundworms (nematode) species in the Siberian Permafrost. Radiocarbon dating indicated that the nematode individuals have remained in cryptobiosis since the late Pleistocene, about 46,000 years ago.

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) in Dresden, the Center for Systems Biology Dresden (CSBD), and the Institute of Zoology at the University of Cologne, all located in Germany, used genome sequencing, assembly, and phylogenetic analysis and found that the permafrost nematode belongs to a previously undescribed species, Panagrolaimus kolymaensis. They showed that the biochemical mechanisms employed by Panagrolaimus kolymaensis to survive desiccation and freezing under laboratory conditions are similar to those of a life-cycle stage in the important biological model Caenorhabditis elegant.

P. kolymaensis, female. Scanning electron picture. Credit: Alexei V. Tchesunov and Anastasia Shatilovich / Institute of Physicochemical and Biological Problems in Soil Science RAS

Revival and Initial Investigation of the Nematodes

When Anastasia Shatilovich at the Institute of Physicochemical and Biological Problems in Soil Science RAS in Russia revived two frozen individual nematodes from a fossilized burrow in silt deposits in the Siberian permafrost, she and her colleagues were beyond excited. After thawing the worms in the lab, a radiocarbon analysis of plant material from the burrow revealed that these frozen deposits, 40 meters below the surface, had not thawed since the late Pleistocene, between 45,839 and 47,769 years ago.

At the same time, the research group of Teymuras Kurzchalia at the MPI-CBG (Teymuras Kurzchalia is now retired) was already addressing the question of how larval stages of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans survive extreme conditions. When the team heard about the permafrost nematodes, they immediately reached out for a collaboration with Anastasia Shatilovich.

Collaboration and Further Research

Vamshidhar Gade, a doctoral student at that time in the research group of Teymuras Kurzchalia, started to work with the permafrost nematodes. “What molecular and metabolic pathways these cryptobiotic organisms use and how long they would be able to suspend life are not fully understood,” he says. Vamshidhar is now working at the ETH in Zurich, Switzerland.

Read on:


FAO: Plan For Ambitious Climate Strategy


Plan aims to help accelerate climate action across all FAO areas of work


FAO’s climate strategy envisages agrifood systems as sustainable, inclusive, resilient and adaptive to climate change. (Photo: FAO)

ROME — The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has launched an Action Plan designed to support the implementation of its ambitious Strategy on Climate Change 2022-2031.

The Strategy, which was endorsed in June 2022 by FAO’s executive body, the Council, envisages agrifood systems as sustainable, inclusive, resilient and adaptive to climate change.

Global agrifood systems, which encompass the production of food and non-food agricultural products, as well as their storage, transportation, processing, distribution, marketing, disposal and consumption, are currently responsible for about a third of total greenhouse gas emissions. They are also one of the major victims of the climate crisis. But agrifood systems also offer many solutions for confronting the climate crisis, from building resilience and adaptation to mitigation and sequestration.

The Strategy aims to scale up the visibility, uptake and investment in these solution by contributing to adaptive, resilient low-emission economies “while providing sufficient, safe and nutritious foods for healthy diets, as well as other agricultural products and services, for present and future generations, leaving no one behind.

Crucially, it recognizes that the time to act is now.

To guarantee the successful and timely implementation of the Strategy, FAO has developed an Action Plan based on discussions with its FAO Members, so as to ensure that it reflects their needs and priorities as closely as possible.

“FAO’s Strategy on Climate Change is our response to the worldwide challenge of tackling the impacts of the climate crisis, while aiming to address a broad range of interlinked challenges, including biodiversity loss, desertification, land and environmental degradation, the need for accessible, affordable renewable energy, and food and water security,” said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu. “This Action Plan will help implement agrifood system solutions to climate change from across all FAO areas of work, ensuring we are working as one FAO.”

Three pillars

The Action Plan is based on three pillars: 1) advocacy at global and regional levels;  2) policy support at country level;  3) the scaling-up of climate action on the ground with local actors and vulnerable populations.

As far as the first pillar is concerned, FAO is already stepping up its advocacy efforts in global fora. For example, FAO was recognized as a strategic partner of the COP27 Presidency, supported the agricultural track of the climate negotiations and hosted a Food and Agriculture pavilion for the first time at the Climate Change Conference held in Sharm el-Sheikh in November 2022. This momentum and collaboration is set to continue with the Presidency of the United Arab Emirates.

In terms of policy support to FAO Members, the Plan aims to intensify support in the elaboration and implementation of climate commitments, in particular the National Adaptation Plans (NAPs), and nationally determined contributions (NDCs). FAO is active in this area with its Scaling up Climate Ambition on Land Use and Agriculture through nationally determined contributions and National Adaptation Plans (SCALA) programme, which is currently active in 12 countries spread across Africa, Asia and Latin America.

For instance, in Nepal, a country with limited institutional capacity for addressing issues associated with climate change, the SCALA Programme is bringing added value and technical expertise in achieving the country’s goals for more resilient agriculture systems and sustainable agriculture and land use practices.

The third pillar seeks to bring about a stronger involvement by local stakeholders, with a particular focus on vulnerable groups, such as women and Indigenous People, towards the identification, co-development, and adoption of good practices that will ensure a greater food security, better livelihoods, as well as address climate change, biodiversity loss, and land degradation.

One example of where FAO is working on this is through its Strengthening Agricultural Adaptation (SAGA) projects, which aims to reinforce adaptation planning for food security and nutrition in two Francophone countries particularly vulnerable to climate change: Haiti and Senegal.

The Plan associates a series of concrete outputs to all the outcomes and pillars that were endorsed in the Strategy and covers the period 2022-2025, allowing for a mid-term review of its implementation.


Australia: Papaya mealybug confirmed in Northern Territory


Wednesday, 26 July 2023 08:31:15


Grahame Jackson posted a new submission ‘Papaya mealybug confirmed in Northern Territory’


Papaya mealybug confirmed in Northern Territory

Mirage News

The Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade has increased plant surveillance after a confirmed sample of the papaya mealybug was found in the Darwin region.

The suspected Paracoccus marginatus was discovered after the Plant Biosecurity team received a call from a concerned resident in Parap last week, who identified a cluster of white coloured insects on their papaya plants.

There are many species of mealybug including a native Australian species which can appear to be similar in appearance. To confirm whether the retrieved sample was Paracoccus marginatus, the insects were subject to further testing, which subsequently came back positive this week.

Additional surveillance has since identified infestations at residential properties in Parap, the Narrows and Winnellie.

The papaya mealybug appears as a cluster of white ‘cotton-like’ mass, usually found on the fruit or underside of the leaves of affected plants.

Although the papaya mealybug does not pose a threat to humans or animals, affected plants may appear deformed, wilted and the papaya fruit likely to remain hard and bitter, with the papaya, hibiscus and frangipani species particularly susceptible.

Surveillance and testing has been ramped up across the Top End. The Plant Biosecurity team will continue surveillance activities and the public is requested to not move suspected infected plants, plant cutting or fruit from their gardens.

The team will work closely with residents and industry during the surveillance period.

Residents of the Darwin region are advised to check plants on their properties and report anything unusual to the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881.

During this time, the public are requested to not take cuttings from plants such as hibiscus, frangipani and papaya and to refrain from purchasing plants from uncertified sources.

/Public Release. This material from the originating organization/author(s) might be of the point-in-time nature, and edited for clarity, style and length. Mirage.News does not take institutional positions or sides, and all views, positions, and conclusions expressed herein are solely those of the author(s).View in full here.


Bangladesh: New biocontrol agent production model to fight fall armyworm


August 7, 2023 

Patricia Manarang 

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New biocontrol agent production model to fight fall armyworm in Bangladesh

The state of BCA use in Bangladesh

The use of biological control agents (BCAs) to manage pests is a concept not yet fully embraced by farmers. This is especially true in Bangladesh, where the invasive pest, fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda), has affected many crops. First seen in Bangladesh in November 2018, fall armyworm causes harvest loss and economic damage. Fall armyworm infestations have impacted one of Bangladesh’s most important crops, maize. Maize is one of the country’s top three major crops, making these infestations particularly devastating.

Fall armyworm attacks wheat amongst many other crucial crops (Photo: Tim Krupnik, CIMMYT)

Using biological control, or biocontrol, is a viable way to control these pests, as it is environmentally friendly and safe for humans. It is a good way to manage fall armyworm if the proper systems are enforced. Although biocontrol research and product development has progressed in the country, their uptake and usage are still lacking.

The main reasons for this are the inaccessibility of bioprotection products and questions about their efficiency. Farmers do not completely understand their use, applications, and methods. Additionally, their high costs, local unavailability, and burdensome regulations make them unappealing to invest in. Another big issue is that there aren’t enough existing distribution networks. As a result, farmers have become more dependent on the use of chemicals for fall armyworm management. BCA production is also currently done through a singular business model. This can be limiting to BCA production and usage. 

Current BCA production model and how it can be improved

In Bangladesh, private enterprises are in charge of the production of bioprotection products and also their distribution through dealers. The dealers, usually agro-dealers or individual enterprises, market the biopesticides. Extension agents are also tapped to promote the BCAs to the farmers. This linear business model has been established with BCA production centralized in only one location. The problem with this setup is that the BCAs with short shelf lives cannot reach farmers in farther places. On a structural level, this BCA production model is also problematic as it uses a one-way communication system. Consumers and customers are unable to relay their concerns and feedback back to the enterprises.

This brings up the need for a new model that maximizes BCA production and where contributors can work together. To devise this model, a CABI-led study gathered information. The study, published last year, looked at BCA production and use in Bangladesh through key informant interviews and focus group discussions with relevant people and organizations. The results determined what problems farmers have with BCAs and how BCA production could be revamped to attract them.

Problems caused by the existing BCA production model

The researchers asked different stakeholders about their BCA usage. Agro-dealers in maize-growing locations stated that there is no BCA demand. They said that there is a lack of awareness on the part of the farmers of BCAs and related products. Hence, all the interviewed agro-dealers supply chemical products, while only half stock bioprotection products that manage fall armyworm infestations. This half stated that they can only carry two types of these products due to unavailability and supply inconsistency of others.

The team also asked six farmer-producer organizations (FPOs) about their use of BCAs. The interviews revealed that BCAs ranked low among pest management practices commonly used by farmers. Nevertheless, they stated that half of their constituents were at least aware of BCAs, and 60% of that half are BCA users. This shows that those aware of BCAs and their benefits do tend to use them.

They also identified BCA unavailability in the market as the biggest problem, a result of the current BCA production system. The FPOs further explained that limited farmer knowledge, lack of subsidies, and preference for chemicals were also reasons for low uptake.

Despite this, 67% of FPOs said that their members are willing to pay for BCAs to combat fall armyworm infestations. Findings also state that BCAs priced from BDT 2,000-5,000 (USD 18-45) per hectare are viewed as an ideal price range. This is because anything priced lower is seen as low-quality and anything higher is too expensive.

Proposed solution and improved model for BCA production

This study proposes a solution that utilizes a circular business model, promoting collaboration and sustainability. This non-linear business model involves the participation of four stakeholder groups. At its core, it builds capacity and fosters mentorship between the stakeholders. This creates a support system and allows for the cross-sharing of information and material between each level, improving BCA production. 

BCA production would help to control fall armyworm
BCA production would help to control fall armyworm (Photo: Getty / iStock)

The first group is the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), tasked with capacity building for nucleus culture production. BARI is the largest research institute under the National Agricultural Research System (NARS) and conducts various experiments on agriculture. Their role is to maintain bioassays and trials aimed to improve culture strains. To ensure the integrity of the strain of BCAs produced at farm level, it would be necessary for BARI to test the product from time to time.

The second stakeholders are the regional research centres and extension agents. These scientists will be trained over five years through academic and process-oriented training. In turn, they will train farmers to use the BCAs and how BCA production works. They will also provide starter culture to farmers to assist in production and keep the integrity of the strain.

The third group is the agro-dealers, who provide particulars on fall armyworm management, BCA inputs, and complementary products. They can share information on different products with farmers through different educational materials. Moreover, they could redirect farmers to other sources of BCAs if they themselves cannot provide them. Especially if they did stock complementary products.

Lastly, the fourth group is the FPOs. In Bangladesh, these FPOs are well-established and trained in pest management. In the proposed model, farm entrepreneurs and women’s groups will own and operate local BCA production hubs, making it easier to meet demand. The farm entrepreneurs and women’s groups who manage the local BCA production units must be affiliated with FPOs to ensure customers. FPOs will also handle awareness creation of BCA production and effectiveness, and guarantee nucleus cultures to the farmers.  

What does this business model need in order to operate?

To finance this model, the study estimates that USD 500,000 in capital costs is needed to house 250 million Trichogramma spUsing this specific BCA for fall armyworm management is effective, as seen in cases in Latin America and Africa. The specific costs required are for laboratory space, culture mass-rearing chambers, chemicals needed in BCA production, and other materials. Plus, annual costs for training, support for production, and dissemination. In addition to the costs for field trials to determine the effectiveness of the BCAs will also be part of the budget.

Aside from this money, long-term financial and technical support, research on sustainability, and policies for incentives can operationalize this model. Further research is also needed to determine if BCA production becomes viable through this method.

PlantwisePlus has partnered with BARI to strengthen the regional production of Trichogramma in BangladeshSince 2022, CABI scientists have been supporting local stakeholders in the set-up of a rearing facility at the regional centre and increasing capacity at HQ level.

The Trichogramma rearing facility will supply the parasitoid to farmers for the management of various pests, including brinjal fruit and shoot borer, as well as fall armyworm.

Read the full paper:

Kadzamira, M.A.T.J., Chaudhary, M., Williams, F. et al. A non-linear approach to the establishment of local biological control agent production units: a case study of fall armyworm in Bangladesh. CABI Agric Biosci 3, 48 (2022).

The study was funded as part of CABIs global Action on Invasives programme and by the CABI Development Fund (CDF). Action on Invasives was supported by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and the Netherlands Directorate General for International Cooperation (DGIS).

Useful resources

CABI’s Fall armyworm portal

The CABI BioProtection Portal is the largest global database of biological plant protection products

PlantwisePlus Knowledge Bank for open access practical plant health information

Read more

New research proposes local Biological Control Agent hubs to fight fall armyworm in Bangladesh

Horizon scanning and pest risk analysis of prioritized pests in Bangladesh

PlantwisePlus boosts crop health in Bangladesh

Coordinating body urgently needed to help improve Bangladesh’s invasive alien species system

Fostering collaborations for utilizing and promoting biocontrol agents to fight fall armyworm in Bangladesh

Conserving biodiversity: biocontrol for sustainable agriculture

BangladeshFall armywormbiocontrolpesticide risk reduction

Invasive species


Caterpillar Conceals a Venom Unlike Any Ever Seen in Insects


NATURE20 July 2023


Asp caterpillars are among the most venomous caterpillars in the Americas. (Judy Gallagher/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

Caterpillars with a notoriously painful sting may have evolved their venom with help from ancient microbes, according to a new study led by scientists from the University of Queensland in Australia.

Their analysis has uncovered signs that a process known as horizontal gene transfer may have allowed sequences for toxins to jump from bacteria to the insect some time in their evolutionary past.

While the caterpillar’s venom remains largely shrouded in mystery, researchers say its molecular secrets could turn out to be surprisingly beneficial for us.

The caterpillars wielding this venom are larvae of flannel moths (Megalopyge sp.); a soft, fuzzy genus native to North and South America. They’re sometimes called “puss caterpillars,” since their luxuriant coats of hairlike bristles can make them look sort of like caterpillar-sized cats.

But that’s not their only nickname. Also known as “asp caterpillars,” there’s a hidden danger below those bristles.

The caterpillars’ fur obscures an arsenal of venomous spines, which can inject powerful toxins into any would-be predators or hapless humans who touch them.

This venom causes an immediate and intense burning pain, commonly inspiring descriptions such as “being hit with a baseball bat,” “walking on hot coals,” or “the worst pain a patient has ever experienced,” the researchers write.

Some animal venoms have proven useful to humans in recent years, and a growing field of research now views them as potential goldmines. Certain snake and spider venoms, for example, show “amazing potential” to inspire new medications, the study’s authors say.

And since caterpillar venoms have received relatively little scientific attention so far, the researchers decided to investigate venom from some of the scariest caterpillars on Earth.

Their study focused on two moth species – the southern flannel moth (Megalopyge opercularis) and the black-waved flannel moth (Megalopyge crispata) – to shed light on the anatomy, chemistry, and mode of action for venom systems in asp caterpillars.

They discovered a venom system that differed substantially not only from closely related venomous caterpillars, but also from insects in general.

“We were surprised to find asp caterpillar venom was completely different to anything we had seen before in insects,” says University of Queensland molecular entomologist Andrew Walker.

The quirks of asp caterpillar venom support the idea it evolved independently from other insect venom, the researchers say. In fact, its origins seem to lie outside the animal kingdom entirely.

“When we looked at it more closely, we saw proteins that were very similar to some of the bacterial toxins that make you sick,” Walker says.

Specifically, asp caterpillar venom resembles a type of bacterial toxin that binds itself to the surface of a cell, the researchers explain, assembling into doughnut-like structures that rip holes in their cell target.

While organisms normally pass genes down their offspring in a so-called vertical fashion, sometimes genes can be transferred across between species – even distantly related ones – in a less common horizontal process.

Previous research has found evidence of horizontal gene transfer from bacteria to other, more complex creatures, including the transfer of genes involved with producing venom toxins.

In their new study, Walker and his colleagues say they’ve found evidence that major components of asp caterpillar venom were recruited as venom toxins from genes that bacteria transferred horizontally to their ancestors.

Adult flannel moth
An adult flannel moth. (Robert Aguilar/Smithsonian Environmental Research Center/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

“The venom in these caterpillars has evolved via the transfer of genes from bacteria more than 400 million years ago,” Walker says.

Moths and butterflies have a wide range of strategies to protect themselves in their larval stages, and research like this can offer new insights into these amazing adaptations – including the different ways they arose and evolved.

“Many caterpillars have developed sophisticated defenses against predators, including cyanide droplets and defensive glues that cause severe pain, and we’re interested to understand how they are all related,” Walker says.

In addition to sheer curiosity, humans are also studying these caterpillars in hopes of finding some tangible rewards for our species. Understanding venom can help us protect ourselves from it, and can give us new ideas for developing or improving things like medications and pesticides.

In asp caterpillar venom, the newly identified megalysin toxins cause intense pain by forming holes in cells. If humans can mimic and modify this tactic, we might find ways to channel 400 million years of moth evolution into life-saving innovations instead of just painful stings.

“Toxins that puncture holes in cells have particular potential in drug delivery because of their ability to enter cells,” Walker says.

“There may be a way to engineer the molecule to target beneficial drugs to healthy cells, or to selectively kill cancer cells.”

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


CABI: New bioprotection course | Global Plant Protection News


You are here: PlantwisePlus Blog

August 8, 2023 

Laura Hollis 

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New bioprotection course paves the way for a more sustainable agricultural landscape 

CABI Academy‘s latest course, Introduction to Bioprotection Products, enables agricultural service providers to equip themselves with the knowledge and skills to support smallholder farmers using bioprotection products.

Bioprotection, also known as biocontrol, is a more sustainable approach to pest management. Unlike conventional chemical pesticides, bioprotection products are derived from natural sources, making them a safer alternative with minimal environmental impact.  

CABI’s PlantwisePlus programme recognises the urgent need to increase farmers’ uptake of lower-risk plant protection products. The programme enhances the use of low-risk solutions to reduce reliance on high-risk farm inputs that adversely affect human health and biodiversity.  

Young farmer in Jamaica
Young farmer in Jamaica. Image: CABI

As such, the CABI Academy‘s latest course is an introduction to bioprotection products and includes practical guidance on choosing, using, and interpreting the results of bioprotection in the field. The online course is relevant to anyone interested in bioprotection but particularly benefits extension workers, agro-input dealers, and agricultural educators. 

Course Structure and Content 

The Introduction to Bioprotection Products course addresses the pressing need for knowledge and skills in applying bioprotection products correctly. It is a self-paced online course that spans 8-10 hours and comprises three core sections, which delve into the following topics: 

– What are bioprotection products, and how do they work? 
– Using bioprotection products to monitor pest insects 
– Safety information and interpreting product labels 
– Access to bioprotection products 
– How to transport and store bioprotection products 
– Making the most of bioprotection products 
– Application and interpretation of results

The importance of bioprotection products 

The CABI Academy’s latest course offers a crucial opportunity for agricultural service providers to equip themselves with the knowledge and skills to support smallholder farmers using bioprotection products. By incorporating bioprotection into their practices, learners can contribute to the sustainable future of agriculture, addressing global food security challenges and protecting livelihoods. 

data:image/gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw==Learn about microbial bioprotection products on the CABI Academy Introduction to bioprotection products online course

The new course sits alongside the CABI Bioprotection Portal,  an- tool designed to raise awareness of bioprotection among growers and advisors. In addition, users can identify and source biocontrol and biopesticides products. The CABI Bioprotection Portal complements the bioprotection course by enabling users to put their knowledge into practice and is available on smartphones, tablets and desktops.  

So why are bioprotection products so important? 

Environmentally safe 

The primary advantage of biopesticides lies in their minimal impact on the environment. Unlike chemical pesticides, which can leave harmful residues in soil, water bodies, and food crops, biopesticides degrade rapidly, reducing the risk of environmental contamination. Their non-toxic nature ensures that beneficial insects, birds, and other non-target organisms remain unharmed, promoting overall biodiversity and ecosystem health. 

Less hazardous to humans 

Chemical pesticides have raised concerns over potential health hazards for farmers, consumers, and communities. Biopesticides, on the other hand, are generally considered safe for humans due to their natural origin and low toxicity levels. Their use contributes to a healthier farming environment and a safer food supply. 

Reduced residual buildup 

The accumulation of pesticide residues in crops is a pressing concern for food safety. Consumers are increasingly conscious of the chemicals present in their food, demanding produce with lower pesticide residues. Biopesticides break down more quickly, leaving little to no residues on the crops.  

Managing pesticide resistance 

Continuous exposure to chemical pesticides can lead to the emergence of resistant pest populations, rendering the pesticides ineffective over time.  Biopesticide and biocontrol products use a variety of modes of action, reducing the chance of pest resistance. In addition, these modes of action are usually more complex than those of chemical pesticides. As a result, pests are less likely to develop resistance. 

Sustainable agriculture 

Biopesticides enable farmers to protect their crops while maintaining soil health, preserving beneficial insect populations, and supporting the natural balance of ecosystems. In conjunction with other sustainable practices like crop rotation and integrated pest management (IPM), biopesticide and biocontrol products contribute to long-term agricultural viability. 

A more sustainable future 

With more than 2,000 active learners expected to partake in the Bioprotection Course by early 2024, there is hope that these efforts will pave the way for a more resilient and sustainable agricultural landscape. All the more pertinent in the face of an ever-growing population and changing environmental conditions.

Sign up to the Introduction to Bioprotection Products online course.


PlantwisePlus is financially supported by the Directorate-General for International Cooperation (DGIS), Netherlands; European Commission Directorate General for International Partnerships (INTPA, EU); the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), United Kingdom; the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC); the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR); the Ministry of Agriculture of the People’s Republic of China (MARA)

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