Modelling and manipulation of plant-aphid interactions: A new avenue for sustainable disease management of an important crop in Africa

Lead Research Organisation: Rothamsted Research
Department Name: Biological Chemistry & Crop Protection

Abstract

In Eastern and Central Africa beans are a vital crop because they enrich the soil with fixed nitrogen (an indispensable natural fertilizer), which in turn supports the cultivation of other important crops such as corn (maize) and cassava. Beans are an essential part of the regional diet because they are rich in protein and crucially important micronutrients like iron and zinc. Since beans are predominantly grown and traded by women, this crop provides additional direct economic benefits to women and their children. Unfortunately, a number of viruses attack bean plants, causing severe crop losses from disease. Although there are a few bean varieties with resistance to one of these viruses (called bean common mosaic virus), a closely related virus that occurs widely in, and is indigenous to, Africa (bean common necrotic mosaic virus) causes plants of these 'resistant' lines to die. Thus, it is important to develop new strategies to defend this vital crop.


Our approach is to attack the insects (aphids) that transmit these viruses from plant to plant. We have found that aphid-plant interactions are controlled in large part by the plant's 'small RNA pathways'. Small RNA pathways are a recently discovered regulatory system used by plants and many other organisms to control the expression of their own genes as well as to fight off disease. The discovery of small RNA pathways has revolutionized biology and medicine. In plants, small RNA pathways control, among other things, the production of natural signal chemicals that attract or repel insect pests, including aphids. Intriguingly, viruses produce factors called 'silencing suppressors' that modify small RNA pathways. We have found that silencing suppressors affect the interactions of virus-infected plants with aphids in a way that is likely to enhance the rate at which these insects acquire viruses and transport them to other plants. We have assembled a team of scientists based in Uganda, Kenya and at two centres in the UK to translate these findings from the laboratory to the field and exploit them for protection of beans. However, aphids and the viruses they transmit are problems for all major crops and the work will yield vital data for the wider field of crop protection.

Our multinational team will collaborate to:

A. Identify potential factors involved in mediating plant-aphid communication in plants: small RNAs, the genes they control, and the chemical signals whose production they regulate.

B. Use the modelling methods provided by the discipline of mathematical epidemiology to help us design experiments (under lab and later field conditions) to predict how altering the attractiveness of plants (whether engendered by changes in the plant or deployment of signal chemicals as traps or decoys) could be used to help minimize or prevent the transmission of viruses.

C. Utilize the work from 1 and 2 to design experiments to test the effects on virus transmission of modifying plant responses to aphids or utilization of purified signal chemicals to trap or deter aphids under controlled and simulated field conditions.

D. To achieve impact by disseminating information gained from our work to African crop scientists, growers and consumers through the Pan-Africa Bean Research Alliance, a network of the national bean research programmes of 28 African nations.

Technical Summary

Our overall objective is to assess potential risks/benefits for disease management (using epidemiological modelling with experimental validation) from identifying and adapting the knowledge/tools (including gene sequences/semiochemicals/epidemiological models) from studying viral suppressor of RNA silencing-mediated effects on aphid-plant relations to develop 'push-pull'-type systems to protect bean. However, aphids are important pests and disease vectors affecting all major crops, meaning our results will have wide applicability. Our collaboration will translate work from model systems (Arabidopsis and tobacco) to a vital crop (bean) with uniquely African viral disease problems (with emphasis the combined effects of bean common mosaic virus and bean common necrotic mosaic). Key objectives/activities are listed with lead researcher(s) and time-scales indicated in parentheses.

1. Epidemiological modelling (Yrs 1-4, CAG, Cam)
2. Validation and exploration of modelling predictions in controlled conditions (Yrs 1-4, Cam)
3. Field surveys and data collection in Uganda (Yr. 1) and experiments utilizing data from 1 and 2, and field samples (Yrs. 2-4)(MA, CIAT)
4. Analyzing the effects of silencing suppressors on bean mRNA and small RNA profiles (Yrs 2-4) (JH, AD, BecA; DB, Cam)
5. Metabolite analyses to identify semiochemicals produced by bean that influence plant-aphid interactions (Yrs 2-4, Rothamsted)
6. Initiating pathways to impact activities via the Pan-Africa Bean Research Alliance, a network of the national bean research programmes of 28 African nations (Yr3/4; Lead: MA, CIAT).

Planned Impact

We aim to develop technologies for aphid management (and potentially other insect pests) and aphid-vectored viruses while strengthening capacity in sustainable pest and disease management. Transnational, multi-stakeholder and participatory approaches ensure technology uptake and provide opportunities for beneficiaries along the value chain (incl. research papers, epidemiological models, gene sequences and markers for bean improvement through PABRA's networks, semiochemicals that could be exploited by growers, industry, etc). Cambridge Plant Sciences hosts a Business Fellow (Beatrix Schlarb-Ridley) to facilitate routes to impact and the Dept. is the hub of the Cambridge Partnership for Plant Sciences linking many research institutes, SMEs and regional industry. The Figure summarizes our pathways to impact and capacity building, demonstrating how our innovation chain ensures delivery of results to end users. Capacity building is embedded in all phases of the project. PhD & PDRA exchange placements will facilitate skills transfer and establish an international team capable of addressing food security constraints in future projects. Our project enables BecA and ECABREN to expand research beyond their respective ILRI and CIAT core-funded activities and in line with priorities developed in consultation with African national partners.

Publications

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Babikova Z (2013) How rapid is aphid-induced signal transfer between plants via common mycelial networks? in Communicative & integrative biology

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Bruce T (2019) Editorial in Physiological Entomology

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Drakulic J (2016) Aphid Infestation Increases Fusarium langsethiae and T-2 and HT-2 Mycotoxins in Wheat. in Applied and environmental microbiology

 
Description Better understanding of the epidemiology and ecology of aphids as vectors of plant diseases in Africa
Exploitation Route Development of management programmes to reduce crop damage by aphids and the diseases they transmit
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink

 
Description We aim to develop technologies for aphid management (and potentially other insect pests) and aphid-vectored viruses while strengthening capacity in sustainable pest and disease management.
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink
Impact Types Societal,Economic

 
Description BIS consultation about Innovation
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
 
Description COMMONS SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY COMMITTEE - Secured New Government inquiry into "the role of science and technology in addressing challenges to food security and biodiversity"
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
Impact Successfully securing this inquiry will have an impact in raising awareness and improving political will to use science and technology to address challenges to food security and biodiversity. Agriculture has been neglected since the last Green Revolution in the 1960s and 21st Century challenges need to be taken more seriously. The Commons STC is a high level committee overseeing delivery of science across all government departments. While the inquiry has not yet been launched, I am confident that it will make a difference to the areas highlighted above. Here is our University press release, which has more details: "Professor Toby Bruce has secured a full Government inquiry into the role of science and technology in addressing challenges to food security and biodiversity, following his successful pitch to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee in January. Professor Bruce's pitch was one of just four chosen to be taken forward as a full Government inquiry. The committee has combined Professor Bruce's recommendations on food security and crop protection with a related topic on gene editing techniques from Nicola Patron of the Earlham Institute. A report published this week by the Science and Technology Committee said: "Professor Toby Bruce suggested that we should hold an inquiry into food security, the environment and crop protection. He suggested that an inquiry could look at the tools available to farmers to protect crops against pests, weeds and diseases, how these had changed over time, what changes were needed to ensure food security in the future and research investment in crop protection. We will incorporate this into an inquiry into the role of science and technology in addressing challenges to food security and biodiversity." Professor Bruce said: "I am delighted that 'My Science Inquiry' is being taken forward to a full inquiry and look forward to working with the Commons Science and Technology Committee. There is an urgent need for increased research and innovation to help improve food security and protect the environment. I hope that the forthcoming inquiry will be a catalyst for change and will help to address some serious limitations that currently impede our innovation system, particularly with respect to providing new options for protecting harvests from pests". During the presentation of his research, Professor Bruce said: "The choice we have at the moment is having to choose between food security and the environment, so we need to find a way forward in which we can safeguard our crops without environmental impact, partly through smarter regulation to bring more inventions into the market. There is a critical shortage of new treatments but there's also underinvestment in this area. It's a major challenge that we face this century, how do we feed the world without wrecking the environment in the process." The Commons Science and Technology Committee will launch their inquiry into the role of science and technology in addressing challenges to food security and biodiversity within the next 12 months."
URL http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/science-and-technology-co...
 
Description Leaving the EU: implications and opportunities for science and research
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
URL http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/science-and-technol...
 
Description Provided written evidence to the UK science spending review
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
URL http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/science-and-technol...
 
Description Responded to Parliament Consultation on Science Budget
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
URL http://data.parliament.uk/WrittenEvidence/CommitteeEvidence.svc/EvidenceDocument/Science%20and%20Tec...
 
Description AAB: Advances in IPM 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Toby Bruce - gave a talk, chaired a session and helped to organise the Association of Applied Biologists (AAB) Advances in IPM 2016 conference
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.aab.org.uk/contentok.php?id=194&basket=wwsshowconfdets
 
Description AGRInet conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Toby Bruce - lecture at the AgriNet conference, 13 May 2017
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.agri-net.net/events/agri-net-5th-international-plant-chemical-biology-conference
 
Description AgriTech REAP conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Toby Bruce attended conference and took part in discussion
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.agritech-east.co.uk/reap-2015-roundup/
 
Description Agricology 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Toby Bruce - serving on steering committee of Agricology, "Practical, sustainable farming regardless of labels". This is an important initiative to bridge the divide between organic and conventional farming and an opportunity to develop more evidence based approaches to sustainable agriculture. Toby is responsible for discussions relating to crop protection.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Agricology blog 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Toby Bruce - Blog post - TACKLING THE FOOTPRINT OF PESTS, WEEDS & DISEASES IN OUR FOOD SYSTEM
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.agricology.co.uk/tackling-footprint-pests-weeds-diseases-our-food-system
 
Description Aphidophaga 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Toby Bruce - presented research at an international conference in Germany, 29 August - 2 Sept 2016
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://aphidophaga.de/
 
Description Association of Applied Biologists: IPM the 10 year plan 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Toby Bruce gave a talk, "Current state of the agricultural research community in the UK and its ability to deliver new and
novel techniques to the production industry"
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.aab.org.uk/images/ipm_2015_pro.pdf
 
Description CPM magazine 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Toby Bruce featured as the "On farm innovator" in Crop Production Magazine, April 2016 issue
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.cpm-magazine.co.uk/2016/04/11/on-farm-innovator-crowd-sourced-science/
 
Description Chinese Delegation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Two lectures on Crop Protection to a high level panel of Chinese academics and government policy advisers
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Ecomodernism launch 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact I was invited by Owen Patterson MP and Mark Lynas to attend the Ecomodernism launch. It was an interesting event and I took part in the discussion. It was about environmentalism making use of technology. I agreed that technology could be useful but not that we can fully decouple from nature.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.uk2020.org.uk/events/eco-modernism-restoring-science-environment-policy/
 
Description Farmers Weekly Ag Careers Live event 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Toby Bruce - presented research and careers in agricultural research at a Careers Fair in Birmingham
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.fwi.co.uk/ms/events/ag-careers-live/
 
Description GFS workshop - Alternatives to Pesticides 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Toby Bruce attended GFS (Global Food Security) workshop - Alternatives to Pesticides organised by Tim Benton (former GFS Champion). Toby gave a talk and participated in discusssions
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Gates - Grand Challenges 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Supporters
Results and Impact Toby Bruce took part in the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation "Grand Challenges 2016" meeting. He contributed to discussion in the Crop Research stream
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Gates Workshop - Plant Communication for Agricultural Innovation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Supporters
Results and Impact The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation organised a workshop, described as follows: "The goal of this convening is to bring together leading scientists working in plant-plant and plant-pest communication to discuss the current state of research in this area, consider how recent advances may be leveraged to improve agricultural productivity, and to brainstorm prospective research areas worthy of future exploration. Although we do not currently have approval to fund such research, we hope this meeting will serve to inform our thinking on possible future investment areas."
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Gordon Research Conference - Plant volatiles 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Toby Bruce gave an invited lecture - Plant volatiles in Biocontrol
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.grc.org/programs.aspx?id=15108
 
Description Guest Lecture - University of Nottingham 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Gave a lecture to M.Sc. students
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Invited Seminar at University of Warwick (2 May 2019) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited Seminar at University of Warwick (2 May 2019)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description JIC visit 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Toby Bruce - Visit to the John Innes Centre for discussion and to give a talk
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Nuffield students visit to Rothamsted 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Toby Bruce organised and took part in Nuffield farming scholarship students visit to Rothamsted
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Royal Holloway lecture 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Toby Bruce - talk about protecting harvests with fewer pesticides
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description SCPRID Connections workshop (Windsor) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact This workshop, organised by the Gates foundation, drew together the SCPRID project teams to discuss connections between projects and pathways to impact.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Syngenta - Good Growth Plan 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Toby Bruce attended a discussion meeting with Syngenta about their Good Growth Plan and collaboration with Rothamsted
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description UK-US Plant Health Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Toby Bruce attended a discussion meeting at the UK embassy in Washington DC to discuss Plant Health and write a whitepaper with other delegates.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://blogs.fco.gov.uk/stefaniadimauronava/2016/10/13/blog-at-the-root-of-it-all/
 
Description • Society of Experimental Biology Annual Meeting, Manchester, UK. "Chemical communication between insects and plants - dynamic and complex interactions that have evolved over millions of years but act in milliseconds" 3-4 July 2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Talk was well received and stimulated questions

Invited to write a paper in JXB about the talk
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.sebiology.org/meetings/Past_Meetings/Manchester/Manchester.html