My latest from the work blog: There seems to be a bit of an issue over at the Olympics with fast food marketing, but if athletes in Rio, or indeed spectators, want a simple, cheap meal that’s also healthy, and...
On 21 October 2013, the Italian phytosanitary service notified the European Commission (EC) that the plant pathogen Xylella fastidiosa had been detected in olive trees near Gallipoli, a tourist destination in Italy's southern region of Apulia (1). This xylem-limited bacterium is spread by insect vectors and causes disease in crops such as grapevines, citrus, coffee, and almond; various ornamentals; and trees such as oaks, elms, and sycamores. Because of the risks of X. fastidiosa being introduced, established, and spread throughout Europe, this species is a regulated quarantine pest. Yet, X. fastidiosa has been left unchecked and has marched northward, leaving destruction in its wake (see the photo) (2). The establishment of X. fastidiosa in Italy has been an agricultural, environmental, political, and cultural disaster.
The threat of X. fastidiosa to European and Mediterranean agriculture, forests, and ecosystems goes beyond specific crops such as grapevines or citrus. The current host range of this bacterium includes more than 300 plant species (3). Most of these species support some degree of pathogen multiplication without expressing symptoms. Susceptible hosts infected with X. fastidiosa often show disease symptoms only after months or years, although epidemics can spread fast and be devastating.
A phylogenetic study has shown that the genotype in Italy was likely introduced via contaminated plant material from Costa Rica (3). Several X. fastidiosa-infected coffee plants from Costa Rica have been intercepted at European ports since 2014, supporting this hypothesis (4). As a response, the EC in February 2014 approved European Union (EU) emergency measures aimed at preventing the introduction and spread of X. fastidiosa. Since May 2015, the import of coffee plants from Costa Rica and Honduras into the EU has been forbidden. Limiting the introduction of insect vectors is considered an easier task, but this is not possible for X. fastidiosa because any xylem-sap-sucking insect species can be a potential vector. Europe has few sharpshooter leafhopper species, the most important group of vectors in the Americas. However, various endemic spittlebug species (froghoppers) are also potential vectors of X. fastidiosa (3).
Trade is an important pathway in the introduction of plant pests and pathogens (5), and X. fastidiosa-infected plant material has likely been introduced via European ports on a regular basis. Given that biological and environmental conditions in Europe support X. fastidiosainfection, the question arises why the pathogen has not been reported previously. One possible explanation is that limited surveillance efforts missed previous introductions. Monitoring was one component of the EU emergency measures. After the French authorities started a systematic monitoring program for X. fastidiosa in 2014, they found 250 distinct infected areas in Corsica and several in the French Riviera. However, no disease epidemic has yet been noted in France, and the genotype of X. fastidiosa differs from that found in Italy.
Heady days for ancient DNA researchers. There have been two major papers in the past month looking at the DNA of Neolithic farmers. Back in June, a huge research consortium published “The genetic structure of the world’s first farmers” as
The cereal grass barley was domesticated about 10,000 years before the present in the Fertile Crescent and became a founder crop of Neolithic agriculture1. Here we report the genome sequences of five 6,000-year-old barley grains excavated at a cave in the Judean Desert close to the Dead Sea. Comparison to whole-exome sequence data from a diversity panel of present-day barley accessions showed the close affinity of ancient samples to extant landraces from the Southern Levant and Egypt, consistent with a proposed origin of domesticated barley in the Upper Jordan Valley. Our findings suggest that barley landraces grown in present-day Israel have not experienced major lineage turnover over the past six millennia, although there is evidence for gene flow between cultivated and sympatric wild populations. We demonstrate the usefulness of ancient genomes from desiccated archaeobotanical remains in informing research into the origin, early domestication and subsequent migration of crop species.
Global warming and climate change are the most prominent issues of the current environmental scenario. These problems arise due to higher concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere which exert a warming effect. Although much attention has been given to anthropogenic sources and impacts of these gases, the significance and implications of microorganisms have remained neglected. The present review brings to light this overlooked aspect (role and responses of microbes in this context) in both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Through existing literature, it attempts to assess the mechanisms that cause microbes to emit and absorb greenhouse gases. The consequent effects as well as feedbacks have also been studied. It was then found that microbes play a major role with respect to climate change. Thus, microbes should never be deprived of their due importance in climate change models as well as discussions on the matter. In addition, the review also identified the necessity of proper research in this aspect as there is a lack of adequate understanding on this facet of climate change.
Congratulations to Drs Maria Andrade, Robert Mwanga, Jan Low and Howarth Bouis on being awarded the 2016 World Food Prize for their work on biofortification in general and the orange-fleshed sweet potato in particular: “Let Food Be Thy Medicine,” a
Thanks a lot to Susan Bragdon for summarizing her latest paper for us. The Quaker United Nations Office has released a paper by Chelsea Smith and myself looking at the relationship between intellectual property (IP) and small scale farmer innovation.
I’ve been looking for an excuse to play around with the Database of Places, Language, Culture and Environment (D-PLACE), which “contains cultural, linguistic, environmental and geographic information for over 1400 human...
There’s a great set of photographs on the Facebook page of Leo Sebastian, Regional Program Leader, Southeast Asia at CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security, based in Los Baños, Philippines.
Dr Sarada Krishnan of the Denver Botanic Gardens kindly sent us this summary of the Global Partnership for Plant Conservation’s conference on Plant Conservation and the Sustainable Development Goals, mentioned yesterday on the blog. Many thanks, Sarada. If many readers
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