How can life sciences
contribute to a reduction in the use of pesticides?
Identifying sources of disease and pest resistance
The cultivated peanut (Arachis hypogaea)
is the most widely grown grain legume in the world, thanks
to its high protein and unsaturated oil contents. It is
grown extensively in Latin America, where it originated,
but is subject to attacks from various pests and diseases,
necessitating substantial pesticide use.
The European Commission-funded project (INCO programme)
aims to identify wild Arachis species resistant
to the most damaging fungal diseases and root knot nematodes
in Latin America. The project also involves developing tools
and knowledge for the use of wild Arachis germ plasm in
breeding to create disease and pest-resistant peanut cultivars.
The project – ‘The identification of resistances
to biotic stress in wild Arachis germ plasm, and the development
of tools for breeding by genetic mapping and comparative
genomics’– combines the forces of South American
and European researchers in an effort to provide technologies
for sustainable crop production.
Picking a safer path for cotton production
is the main commercial crop in many Asian countries, with
India, China and Pakistan responsible for between 50-60%
of world production annually.
Although extremely valuable to the local economy,
cotton is prone to a range of pest problems that, until
recently, were only ever treated through the heavy use of
pesticides, causing long-term damage to both the environment
and human health. A joint Food and Agriculture Organisation
(FAO) and European Commission (EC) project is teaching farmers
integrated pest management (IPM) strategies that draw them
away from such a reliance on pesticides.
The aim of the project – ‘Integrated
Pest Management for Cotton in Asia’ –
is to introduce sustainable, profitable and environmentally
sound practices to cotton production. The FAO is implementing
the project with €12 million of funding from the EC.
Education is the bedrock of the four-year programme of
activities. By the time work finishes in 2004, thousands
of farmers will have been trained to reduce the use of pesticides
while maintaining crop yields.
plants: Breeding resistance to nematode attack
Arabica coffee production in Latin America represents
about 84% of the world harvest. It is mainly grown on small
and medium-sized farms, creating an important source of
employment for rural populations, and therefore contributes
significantly to the sustainable economic and social development
of these countries.
The root-knot nematodes are the most serious pest facing
coffee production. Growers in some infested areas have to
apply nematicides up to four times a year and often suffer
serious yield losses. The nematicides used to control them
are very harmful to human health and the environment.
With European funding, a consortium of eight research institutions
from European and coffee-growing countries in Latin America
are working together to create varieties of coffee that
have durable resistance to nematodes, adapted to the different
The project has a multidisciplinary approach, and is called,
'Breeding tools for durable resistance to root-knot nematodes
of coffee varieties in Latin America'.
Biotech: Novel pest-resistant genes – a family affair
Improving the resistance of crops to diseases
caused by viruses, fungi and nematodes is a major priority
for agriculture. Current protection strategies based on
extensive use of chemicals are considered untenable for
sustainable agriculture due to negative impacts on the environment.
Genetic engineering is a promising technique to successfully
overcome these problems by improving the natural resistance
of plants. However, the levels of protection achieved are
not yet sufficient for commercial use.
A project funded by the European Commission (INCO programme)
aims to investigate resistant wild Solanum species and to
identify novel resistance-mediating proteins and genes,
useful for creating resistant transgenic crop plants.
The project, entitled 'Resistant wild potatoes as a source
for novel genes mediating resistance against fungal, viral
and nematode diseases', utilises the potato plant and its
relatives (Solanum sp.) as a model.