Emerging technologies in crop protection

9 Jun 2015

SCI Agrisciences Group’s annual conference Agri-innovation 2015:  Emerging science & technologies in crop research, held on 22 April, focused on several exciting areas, mainly in the field of crop protection.

Ian Crute (Agri-Tech Leadership Council) opened with an update on the UK Agri-Tech Strategy.  The focus is on aligning industry and public funding of research, innovation and enhancing the skills base.  So far, 52 projects have been funded from the £160 million committed by the Government.  These include: innovative approaches to active ingredient discovery; lure and kill pheromone technology; overcoming glyphosate resistance; and crop canopy sensors for improved disease management.  Some projects have international goals focused on food security in Africa and Asia.  

Insecticides, and especially the neonicotinoids and their perceived effects on bees, have been in the news a lot lately.  Lin Field (Rothamsted Research) described how investigations into the basis of resistance to insecticides are elucidating the selectivity mechanisms affecting the specificity of toxicity. Rothamsted has a project with Bayer CropScience investigating the molecular basis of selectivity of insecticides to bee pollinators.  Graham Moores (ApresLabs) discussed how synergists enhance the activity of insecticides and overcome resistance.  Synergists prevent or delay pests detoxifying insecticides by inhibiting their cytochrome P450 based metabolic enzymes.

Anthony Flemming (Syngenta) described new techniques being employed to identify the biochemical targets of new active ingredients.  These include the use of radioligands to look for binding sites; genetic approaches, such as the use of mutations; and biological approaches where much information can be obtained from the careful inspection of symptoms shown by targets after treatment. 

Juriaan Ton (University of Sheffield) explained the current understanding of the plant immune system and systemically acquired resistance (SAR).  Plants react faster to insect and pathogen attack when their immune system has been primed by stimuli including pathogen infection, volatiles produced when insect larvae chew leaves, root colonisation by beneficial microbes and certain chemicals.  Recently, it has been demonstrated that SAR can be inherited epigenetically. 

Harmut Ahrens (Bayer CropScience) presented an overview of the discovery and properties of the low application rate, pre-emergence herbicide indaziflam. Its mode of action is the inhibition of cellulose biosynthesis.  This is not generally found in herbicides used in its target markets, making it a good option for combatting weed resistance.

Oscar Ces (Imperial College, London) showed how artificial membranes can be created and organized for research and possibly future practical applications.  They can be used to study the uptake and movement of compounds in the laboratory, but with the development of suitable scale-up technology, they could form the basis of new controlled release formulations.

Finally, Precision Farming is a ‘hot topic’ and Simon Blackmore (Harper Adams University) described some advances in robotic technologies.  Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones are already starting to be used for rapid scouting of crops, equipped with cameras working in visible and near infrared wavelengths to determine areas of damage or stress.  Global positioning systems can now pinpoint, or ‘geocode’, the position of individual seeds when planted.  These data can be superimposed on other information, e.g. soil type and nutrient status, to form a map to guide the precision care of crops, recognizing the position of each plant, to be targeted or avoided as necessary.

Ideas for topics for next year’s conference are welcome.  Please contact communications@soci.org

Alan Baylis
Chair, SCI Agrisciences Group

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