Infrared light paves way to improved crop protection

Curtin University-led research, which has found a way to assess plant disease development using infrared light, opens up new research avenues on the path to improving disease resistance in crops.

A research team from Curtin’s School of Molecular and Life Sciences, Curtin’s Centre for Crop and Disease Management (CCDM) and Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), developed a new imaging approach that enables scientists to visualise the wax layer on the surface of plant leaves and monitor changes associated with the development of fungal disease.

Lead researcher and ARC-Future Fellow Dr Mark Hackett said the research revealed that wax on the surface of plant leaves reflected specific wavelengths of infrared light.

“As the wax layer on plant leaves is influenced by plant health, we can use infrared light to understand more about how plants respond to infection by pathogens,” Dr Hackett said.

Research co-author PhD student Karina Khambatta said the findings had tremendous future applications. Continue reading

Controlling disease in our newest plant-based sector

Plant & Food Research is looking at ways to diagnose and manage a damaging plant disease affecting the medicinal cannabis industry.

The disease, caused by Hop Latent Viroid (HLVd), has been found in established cannabis-growing regions worldwide and can cause significant loss of yield. The first instance found in New Zealand was recently reported by Helius Therapeutics.

Plant & Food Research has worked with Helius to establish in New Zealand a laboratory test to identify the presence of HLVd in medicinal cannabis plant material, based on overseas knowledge.

A research programme is under way to investigate how the viroid spreads within and between plants so robust testing procedures can be developed for cultivators to identify infected plants and take action. Plans are being developed to identify real time, in-field test methods for the viroid and to identify potential methods for treating plant material to remove any viroid prior to cultivation.

“Early detection of a disease is a major factor in minimising its effects on a sector,” says Dr Richard Newcomb, Chief Scientist of Plant & Food Research.

“Hop latent viroid was first identified in cannabis in California in 2017, and has caused major issues for the local sector. By identifying the disease early in New Zealand we can work with the industry, and the associated hemp industry, to develop diagnostic and management techniques that work for the New Zealand sector.”

HLVd is a disease originally discovered in hops and has been present in New Zealand since the 1980s.

The disease affects some other plants of the Cannabaceae family, such as cannabis and hemp.

The viroid causes curling or yellowing of leaves, and can reduce the quality and quantity of flowers produced by the plant.

The viroid can affect different parts of the plant in different ways, and be present without the plant displaying symptoms. It is spread primarily by mechanical means, such as on pruning shears or other tools.

Source:  Plant and Food Research

US to rejoin Paris climate accord under President Biden – expert reaction

Newly inaugurated President Joseph R. Biden has recommitted the United States to the Paris climate agreement, the international accord designed to avert catastrophic global warming, and ordered federal agencies to start reviewing and reinstating more than 100 environmental regulations that were weakened or rolled back by former President Donald J. Trump.

These moves represent a first step in healing one of the deepest rifts between the United States and the rest of the world after Mr Trump defiantly rejected the Paris pact.

He seemed to relish his administration’s push to weaken or undo major domestic climate policies, the New York Times reports.

Tackling the climate crisis is among President Biden’s highest priorities.

“We’re going to combat climate change in a way we have not before,” Mr Biden said in the Oval Office on Wednesday evening, just before signing the executive orders.

Even so, he cautioned: “They are just executive actions. They are important but we’re going to need legislation for a lot of the things we’re going to do.” Continue reading

Powerhouse plants that bolster the food web – study points to ecosystem restoration

Researchers have identified the most critical plants needed to sustain food webs across the United States. Their study drills down to the top plants in each county and bio-region, illuminating a plan for how to restore ecosystems anywhere in the country.

The research team included University of Delaware Professor of Entomology Doug Tallamy and co-authors Kimberley Shropshire and former graduate student Desiree Narango, now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Massachusetts Amhers.

Food webs are complex, highly interconnected systems of feeding relationships that are essential for our planet’s health. The Earth and its many species depend on them, including humans.

The system starts with plants, which get great publicity for their ability to convert carbon dioxide and into breathable air.

But plants have another, lesser known talent – they capture energy from the sun and turn it into food. Animals eat plants. Some eat plants directly; others obtain this energy by eating an animal who eats plants. Continue reading

How plants competing for underground space affects climate change and food production

Researching how plant roots store carbon, scientists have found that the energy which a plant devotes to its roots depends on proximity to other plants.

When plants are close together, they heavily invest in their root systems to compete for finite underground resources.  If they are far apart, they invest less.

Because about a third of the world’s vegetation biomass (and carbon) is below ground, this helps predict root proliferation in global earth-system models.

The international team of researchers was led by Princeton graduate student Ciro Cabal.

In a paper published in Science last week, the team reports on their use of a combination of modelling and a greenhouse experiment to discover whether plants invest differently in root structures when planted alone versus when planted alongside a neighbour. Continue reading

Funding boost for sustainable food and fibre production

Twenty-two projects to boost the sustainability and climate resilience of New Zealand’s food and fibres sector have been announced by Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor.

The $18m funding will deliver practical knowledge to help farmers and growers use their land more sustainably, meet environmental targets, remain prosperous, and better understand and adapt to the effects of climate change in New Zealand.

“This Government has a bold plan to boost primary sector export earnings by $44 billion over the next decade, while protecting the environment and growing jobs,” Damien O’Connor said.

“Our recently announced Fit for a Better World plan is a 10-year roadmap to unlock greater value for a sector vital to New Zealand’s economic recovery. Sustainability is key to achieving this.” Continue reading

Govt funds initiatives to connect Kiwis to affordable, healthy food

Funding for innovative projects to connect Kiwis with affordable, safe and wholesome food, reduce food waste, and help the country’s food producers recover from COVID-19 was announced today by Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor.

COVID-19 has resulted in an increasing number of families facing unprecedented financial pressure, Mr O’Connor said.

Foodbanks and community food service providers were reporting two or three times their usual demand.

But food supply chains had been disrupted,  making it difficult for some New Zealander’s to access to affordable and healthy food and risking significant food waste. Continue reading

New Chief Executive is appointed at AgResearch

Dunedin City Council chief executive Dr Sue Bidrose has been appointed chief executive at AgResearch and will be based at the Crown Research Institute’s head office in Lincoln when she takes up the role at the end of July.

Sue started her career as a laboratory technician at the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry’s Wallaceville campus (an AgResearch predecessor organisation) in her late teens before gaining a PhD from Otago University.

Sue’s science background, proven operational and strategic experience and strong understanding of local government, means she is ideally placed to lead the research institute with 700 staff and four New Zealand campuses.

AgResearch Board chair Dr Paul Reynolds says:

“Sue has worked with scale and complexity, has a proven success record and is held in high political regard across the Dunedin and the New Zealand local government sector, and by central government agencies”.

Sue says she is looking forward to returning to the environment where she began her working life as a laboratory technician in her teens.

“Now is a great time to be working back in science,” she says.

“The whole country has seen how important good science is for the wellbeing of New Zealanders, and AgResearch is at the forefront of that good science.”

Source: AgResearch

New tool to slash nitrate leaching from dairy cows and the quest to reduce methane through genetics

 Two news items on research to reduce the environmental impacts of dairy cattle have been released today, one dealing with the search for tools to reduce nitrate leaching to the waterways, the other looking for a link between methane and cow genetics.

Lincoln University reports:

The latest research from Lincoln University’s Pastoral Livestock Production Lab offers new hope to dairy farmers in the search for tools to reduce nitrate leaching to the waterways, with the genetic disposition of the cows themselves delivering a big part of the solution.

The Pastoral Livestock Production Lab is a key constituent of the University’s Faculty of Agricultural and Life Sciences Department and the Centre of Excellence for Designing Future Productive Landscapes, where students, postgraduate researchers and academics are dedicated to creating and implementing more productive, resilient and sustainable agroecosystems for the future. Continue reading

Massey’s food innovation legacy celebrated in ‘NZ Food Heroes’

Massey University’s commitment to the food sector as a long-standing leader of research and education excellence in food science, product development, and food health and safety, has inspired a twist on this year’s New Zealand Food Awards.

Due to the huge impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the awards this year have shifted from their usual programme, which would have opened for entries on May 1, to generating a community-focussed celebration of innovators across all sectors of the food and beverage industry.

Food has been a huge preoccupation for most in lockdown.  And in light of this new appreciation for the variety and quality of local food in a time of crisis, the New Zealand Food Awards –  powered by Massey University – want to celebrate the people who make it all happen. Continue reading