Overcoming cotton insect/pests through Natural Enemies Field Reservoir (NEFR) technology in Pakistan

Better Cotton
The CABI team at Mr Ahmad’s farm where he installed NEFR technology

Cotton is one cash crop of Pakistan which is attacked by a number of pests including sucking (aphid, jassid, white fly) piercing (mites), cutting (white ant) and chewing (boll worms). Izhar Nabi Sehto of Kurkuli village, district Sanghar of Sindh province, said the only option that comes readily to the farmer’s mind when looking for a control and management solution is pesticide.

But CABI in Pakistan, under the Better Cotton Initiative project, is providing training to farmers to help bring a change in their traditional approach to pest control and management. CABI recommends the use of more environment-friendly practices such as light traps, sticky traps and pheromone traps but above all is use of the Natural Enemies Field Reservoir NEFR technology.

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Back from the brink: how biocontrol saved St Helena’s national tree from extinction

Gumwoods of St Helena
The gumwoods of St Helena are flourishing again after facing extinction

By Wayne Coles

At first sight the humble scale insect, Orthezia insignis doesn’t seem like it could pack much of a punch in a ‘fight’ against a range of native flora – but to make such an assumption would be very dangerous indeed.

In fact Orthezia insignis is a genuine invasive menace which in Hawaii, East Africa and South and Central America has, at times, wreaked havoc on numerous ornamental plants including citrus, coffee, olive, Jacaranda and Lantana.

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Plant clinics, pests and pads of paper

“We’ve arrived everyone. Off the bus”. Ten journalists, myself and five other CABI staff disembark eager to write our own stories on this, a landmark day, for one of CABI’s latest projects – the Pest Risk Information SErvice (PRISE).

PRISE, led by CABI and funded by the UK Space Agency’s International Partnership Programme (IPP), uses state-of-the-art technology to help inform farmers in sub-Saharan Africa of pest outbreaks that could devastate their crops and livelihoods. 12 July 2018 marked the launch of the project in Kenya.

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This World Environment Day it’s time to beat plastic pollution

Discarded plastic waste. Image credit: Ben_Kerckx via Pixabay

World Environment Day, held annually on 5th June, is considered to be the UN’s most important day for promoting global awareness and action to protect the environment.  This year’s theme is one that shines a spotlight on what has become a particularly hot topic over the last year – plastic pollution.   Coincidentally, it was also the theme of this year’s Earth Day and will be the focus of World Oceans Day on June 8 and all for good reason.

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CABI joins EU Action against the spread of Ragweed on the continent

Starr_031108-3169_Ambrosia_artemisiifoliaIn the largest COST Action to date, 34 EU countries have banned together to find
a solution to stop Ragweed's spread on the continent. This invasive weed from
North America, now one of the most common air-borne allergens in the EU, causes
half of all asthma attacks in its regions, and costs the EU economy an estimated
€4.5B a year. CABI will join a consortium of over 120 biologists,
ecologists, economists, and medical
experts to explore sustainable solutions. Top on the agenda, biological control,
or using ragweed’s natural enemies to help stop its spread.

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Express Yourself Genetically: Say It With Flowers


Is it a plant or is it animal? Is it an artwork or is it a science project? Is it a profound statement or just messing about? These are just some of the questions unlikely to be answered by Edunia, a transgenic flower with artist Eduardo Kac's own DNA expressed in the red veins.  It is part of an exhibition "Natural History of the Enigma" at the  Weisman Art Museum, in Minneapolis.

The Edunia has red veins on light pink petals and a gene of the artist is expressed on every cell of its red veins, i.e., Kac's gene produces a protein in the veins only. The gene was isolated and sequenced from Kac's blood. Kac sees the petal pink background, against which the red veins are seen, as evocative of his own pinkish white skin tone. The result of this molecular manipulation is a bloom that creates the living image of human blood rushing through the veins of a flower. The gene Kac selected is responsible for the identification of foreign bodies. In this work, it is precisely that which identifies and rejects the other that the artist integrates into the other, thus creating a new kind of self that is partially flower and partially human. Molecular biologist Neil Olszewski at the University of Minnesota collaborated with Kac on the project.

In 2002 Kac exhibited ‘Alba’, a transgenic albino rabbit: She contains a jellyfish gene that makes her glow green when illuminated with the correct light. Alba was created by French scientists who injected green fluorescent protein (GFP) of a Pacific Northwest jellyfish into the fertilized egg of an albino rabbit. This was not the first transgenic GFP animal, but probably the first to grace an art gallery.

Kac says "Natural History of the Enigma" is a reflection on the "contiguity of life between different species. It uses the redness of blood and the redness of the plant's veins as a marker of our shared heritage in the wider spectrum of life."

In anticipation of a future in which Edunias can be distributed socially and planted everywhere, Kac created a set of "Edunia Seed Packs", which are included in the exhibition. The "Edunia Seed Packs" contain actual Edunia seeds and are part of the permanent collection of the Weisman Art Museum.

George Gessert, another genetic artist, points out that this is the continuation of a trend, with Edward Steichen exhibiting hybrid delphiniums at the Museum of Modern Art in 1936. More recently, Suzanne Ankers made sculptures of chromosomes and Dave Powell has bred  "artcats" specifically for exhibition in galleries.

Those negatively disposed to transgenic organisms are likely to see this as further evidence of scientists fiddling about with things that they shouldn't for no good reason. Others may see it as artists just finding another medium to work with - the DNA of living organisms. So expect to find pipettes and Petri dishes alongside the paintbrushes in your local art shop.

Find out more: http://www.ekac.org/nat.hist.enig.html

Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin!

Over 200,000 people have paid the ultimate 21st century homage to Charles Darwin by signing up on social networking site facebook to wish him a happy birthday. Facebook itself is celebrating its fifth birthday and appears to be winning the struggle for survival of the fittest (or coolest, or most addictive) against other social networking sites such as Bebo and myspace.

So what does it mean – is Darwin just a poster child for people who want to look intelligent? Is signing up to the facebook group just a bit like having an unread copy of Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time” on your shelf? I felt compelled to sign up, even though I do have to admit I didn't quite make to the end of "On the Origin of Species". 

Darwin is not the only genetics figure with a facebook presence – Gregor Mendel has 780 fans and Barbara McClintock, discoverer of transposable elements, has 81 fans. Some facebookers have signed up to somewhat eclectic statements about their genetics heroes such as "Mendel, Watson, and Crick are my Home-boys!" (45 members), or "Watson and Crick ripped off Rosalind Franklin, and you know it" (813 members).

There is even a group called facebook Darwinism with the guiding principle “Each week de-friend someone. Soon you should have a strong lean group of friends!” However, a contributor has challenged the principle as more like the teachings of Herbert Spencer, a forerunner of Darwin, saying that "biodiversity is always a good thing. Culling friends diminishes the gene pool, eradicating any possible beneficial" Some might argue that those who spend a lot of time on facebook are unlikely to be contributing to the gene pool at all.

There are several anti-evolution on facebook. The “wish Darwin a happy birthday” site organisers make the point that “This is a forum for paying tribute to a great scientist NOT for religious debate” However, Darwin himself might have been encouraged to see that the group “1 Million People for Creationism” is struggling somewhat with 569 members.