IPM Voice Newsletter                                                                                                           April 2016

USDA Announces $4 Million in Grants for IPM
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced $4 million in grant funding to address major pest management challenges. The funding is available through the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) via the Crop Protection and Pest Management Program (CPPM). The funding is limited to the CPPM's Applied Research and Development (ARDP) focus area, which funds the exploration of innovative approaches and new technologies for high priority pests at the state, regional and national levels. Additional primary program categories for NIFA IPM funding are Regional Coordination and Extension Implementation.  
 
The Omnibus Appropriations Bill for FY2016 that passed on December 18, 2015 provided over $30.9 million for NIFA's Integrated Activities, including $17.2 million for the Crop Protection/Pest Management Program. Although the overall federal agriculture expenditure was $925 million higher this year ($21.75 billion total), federal funding for core IPM programs has hovered around $17 million since 2011. Core IPM funding averaged $26 million from 2000 to 2003 and has been declining since, as was detailed in a previous newsletter.
 
Some examples of projects funded by the CPPM in 2015 include projects on cucurbit IPM to reduce pollinator exposure to key fungicides; systems-level approaches to managing brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB); reduction of pest infestations and insecticide residues in low-income housing; development of a qualitative pest management monitoring network, and more.
 
Eligible applicants include colleges and universities. Applications for grant funding are due by June 8, 2016. For more information, please visit the CPPM request for applications.
Researchers Explore Cultures, RNA Interference Techniques to Combat Citrus Greening Disease
Huánglóngběng, or HLB, also known as "citrus greening disease," results in premature defoliation and ultimately death of citrus trees, and small, irregularly-shaped fruit with a pale green peel and a very bitter taste. Fruit from a tree affected with HLB is almost always considered unsalable. HLB is spread by the Asian citrus psyllid, an invasive pest from Southeast Asia which breeds and vectors the pathogen in its gut. The Florida citrus industry has experienced a 70% reduction in its orange crop since the disease's discovery in 2005.

Grant for Lab Culture Awarded

Researchers at Washington State University recently received two-year grant funding from USDA's Specialty Crop Research Initiative Citrus Disease Research and Extension Program to explore ways of growing the HLB bacterium in a laboratory culture. The challenge of growing the HLB bacterium in a lab has been a major barrier to its study. Researchers have concluded there must be a metabolic element in the gut of the citrus psyllid that is missing in a lab setting. Researchers hope to design a biofilm culture medium that can sustain the bacterium.

Nabil Killiny, an assistant professor of entomology at the Citrus Research and Education Center in Florida, is studying RNA interference (RNAi) techniques to stop the Asian citrus psyllid. RNAi is a genetic engineering technique that uses small strands of ribonucleic acid (RNA) to silence the expression of genes in the DNA of a living organism. Killiny has worked for two years identifying unique genes that interact between the citrus psyllid and HLB, and has demonstrated how RNAi can interfere with wing development in psyllids, preventing them from flying and spreading bacteria, and how it can alter the psyllid's ability to mate, host HLB bacteria and develop resistance to pesticides.

Killiny's plan is to use RNAi to create a perimeter of RNA-inoculated trees around citrus orchards, so that approaching psyllids encounter the barrier before they are able to reach the inner, untreated trees. The fruit from the trees with RNA would not harvested for commercial sale. He acknowledges that no control technique can be 100% effective, and hopes that this RNAi technique can become one of several IPM tools in the fight against HLB.

Some scientists have raised concerns about the risks involved with RNA interference technology, citing potential off-target effects on nontarget species, unknown length of time for insecticidal small RNAs to degrade in the environment and the ability of RNA to cross the intestinal lining when ingested by mammals. The development of resistance may also be an issue, as immune systems can develop defense mechanisms against harmful RNA. Dr. Killiny indicated some of these risks are reduced due to the fact that genes affected by the RNAi are unique to the Asian citrus psyllid.

For more about WSU's efforts to develop a culture medium, visit WSU's site, and for more on Dr. Killiny's research on RNA interference, see this article in the Lakeland Ledger. For more on concerns about RNAi technology, please see this 2013 BioScience study by Jonathan G. Lundgren and Jian J. Duan.

New Biocontrol Mechanism Discovered: Beneficial Microbes Produce Phytohormones, Induce Plant Disease Resistance
Researchers in Copenhagen have identified a novel biocontrol mechanism for diseases affecting plants. Beneficial microbes have been shown to strengthen plants' immune systems and interfere with plant diseases, and also to produce phytohormones including cytokinins. Cytokinins are a class of phytohormones that stimulate cell growth, division and differentiation, or cytokinesis, in plant roots and shoots. As beneficial microbes produce cytokinins, they allow the plant to maintain tissue integrity and biomass yield while fighting disease. The discovery is significant because up until now microbial phytohormones have not been considered for effective biocontrol of plant diseases. This is the first time that a causal relationship has been demonstrated between the production of a plant hormone by a beneficial microbe and the protection of that plant from a pathogenic bacterium.
 
Post doc Dominik Kilian Grosskinsky from the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences at the University of Copenhagen reports the discovery opens the door to developing further microbe-based disease control options for plants. "This mechanism provides a basis to potentially develop novel, integrated plant protection strategies combining promotion of growth, a favorable physiological status and activation of fine-tuned direct defense and abiotic stress resilience," he says. One current known plant disease biocontrol mechanism involves interference with the pathogen, such as competition for nutrients and space, secretion of antibiotics or degradation of virulence factors. The second known mechanism is the stimulation of host plant resistance, which is often related to induced systemic resistance, defined as a "physiological 'state of enhanced defensive capacity' elicited by specific environmental stimuli, whereby the plant's innate defenses are potentiated against subsequent biotic challenges."
 
For more on this discovery, see the full scientific report at Nature.

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Upcoming IPM-Related Meetings and Conferences
May 16-17, 2016. International Tick Management Symposium. Washington DC
University Park, PA
September 25-30, 2016. XXV International Congress of Entomology. Orlando, FL
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