New technologies to replace neonicotinoid pesticides in the control of cabbage stem flea beetle on rapeseed

Lead Research Organisation: University of East Anglia
Department Name: Graduate Office


This PhD project aims to create the underlying knowledge required to help develop new more environmentally-friendly approaches to controlling the key insect pest on rapeseed, the cabbage stem flea beetle. Flea beetles had previously been effectively controlled by neonicotinoid seed treatments, but the current usage ban in Europe based on toxic effects on bee populations mean that we need new and more specific approaches to protecting rapeseed crops from flea beetle damage. Central to this effort is the need to understand the molecular genetics of the interaction between flea beetles and the rapeseed crop in more detail. In this project you will develop methods for analysing the molecular events that enable flea beetles to overcome rapeseed plant defences and successfully attack the crop. You will use new genomic tools to understand plant responses to insect feeding, and use modern breeding techniques to identity and characterise sources of resistance to flea beetle attack using exotic brassica germplasm collections from our commercial partner. The project will run closely with the rapeseed breeding company Limagrain and will include opportunities to take secondments at Limagrain and to exploit their field trials programme and genetic tools for this project.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
BB/M011216/1 30/09/2015 29/09/2023
2059789 Studentship BB/M011216/1 30/09/2018 31/12/2022 Lucy Thursfield
Description Optimisation of a rearing protocol for cabbage stem flea beetle that allows continuous maintenance of a colony in the laboratory - previously only wild insects were used for study, but these are only available for ~4 months of the year, which limits when experiments can take place.
The first time finding a susceptible variety to cabbage stem flea beetle feeding in the species 'Sinapis alba' (white mustard).

The objective aim to study the plant immune system in response to the insect, and use this as a high-throughput phenotyping mechanism was unsuccessful. Immune responses could not be generated with the insect; this may be due to the experimental design or simply because there is no immune response to the insects, it is not yet known.
Exploitation Route The protocol to rear flea beetles will be used to continue research with this insect at the institute, to look for resistance mechanisms and genes for oilseed rape crops grown in Europe. The protocol has already been transferred to the industry partner where they have successfully established their own colony, and are currently doing experiments to find resistant crops to this insect for commercialisation. The protocol will be provided to other seed breeding companies for them to establish their own colonies.

The susceptible variety of white mustard can be compared to other varieties (which show resistance), and the differences may explain resistance. Identifying and understanding resistance genes and mechanisms will allow crop breeders to use these into commercial varieties; currently no known resistance genes or mechanisms exist to cabbage stem flea beetles. Inherently resistant varieties to flea beetles means less insecticide will have to be used in the field, reducing environmental impacts.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

Title Optimisation of rearing of the Cabbage Stem Flea Beetle 
Description An efficient rearing protocol was developed for the non-model pest insect, Psylliodes chrysocephala. This rearing technique allowed this insect to be used in laboratory experiments year-round, whereas it is only available in the wild for experimentation for approximately 4 months. Previous experiments with this insect use wild-caught insects only, which increases variability in experiments and limits when they can take place. 
Type Of Material Technology assay or reagent 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The population of insects reared using the technique have been used to identify resistant and susceptible varieties of white mustard (Sinapis alba), using laboratory assays. This is the first time contrasting resistance to cabbage stem flea beetle has been found in S. alba. This technique was also transferred to an Industry partner, who have established their own colony of the insect. They are currently screening a population of plants for resistance and susceptibility using this insect colony. 
Description Industry Partner 
Organisation Innolea
Country France 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Design and undertaking of all experiments to screen germplasm for resistance, and mechanisms. Contribution of entomology expertise.
Collaborator Contribution Provide germplasm to use in experiments. Expertise in breeding. Intellectual input in performing phenotyping assays. Access to genome sequencing facilities
Impact Identification of contrasting genotypes of Brassica napus and Sinapis alba to cabbage stem flea beetle feeding.
Start Year 2018
Description Attendance BCPC Pests and Beneficials Review 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Networked with around 10 other academics and agronomists interested in novel ways of tackling insect pests of crops. Gained some new insights from the insect I study by conversing with agronomists and hearing their experience of it in the field. I also gave them new information of the insects behaviour from my own observations in lab studies.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Attendance of Association of Independent Crop Consultants Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Networked with around 15 other attendees including agronomists, policy makers, agronomists and farmers. Discussed my project and it's potential impact in reducing the use of chemical insecticides in UK farming, which triggered interesting discussion around farming practises in the UK and the future of related policy.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Discussion with crop breeders (industry) on future of oilseed rape crop due to cabbage stem flea beetle damage 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Discussion with two crop breeders from East Anglia about our efforts to tackle cabbage stem flea beetle. Provided information on the insects life cycle and this was used to consider management strategies. The breeders also used our knowledge to consider future breeding approaches at their companies.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
Description Interview for blog post 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interview by the communications team at my institute about the problem my project is attempting to tackle, and how my project with help. Interview was written into an article and published on the website, then shared on social media platforms to reach a wide audience. Contacted by two interested
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019