22 February 2017
Five years after its conclusion, the PlantComMistra programme continues to deliver new knowledge of biological methods to protect barley against pest attacks. A thesis on this theme came out last year and another is expected in 2017. The researcher networks in Stockholm, Uppsala and Alnarp live on and their members are studying such areas as ‘scent cocktails’ and which genes help to combat aphids.
‘The research has well and truly continued. We’ve had various publications coming out in the past few years, and more are on the way,’ says Lisbeth Jonsson, Professor of Plant Physiology at Stockholm University and former PlantComMistra Programme Director.
This research programme, in progress from 2006 to 2012, faced the challenge of developing biological means of protection for barley against attacks from aphids, a pest that costs the farm sector huge sums and is usually controlled chemically.
For Lisbeth Jonsson, it is no surprise that the research continues to flourish.
‘We expected a continuation. You can’t tell when what’s invested in a research programme will stop bearing fruit, since it’s a matter of building skills — and that has long-term repercussions.’
In the programme, new knowledge of resistance breeding, system solutions and new biological pesticides were developed. During the actual programme period, the researchers succeeded in developing a growing strategy that reduced the application of chemicals in barley cultivation. Their findings included the fact that growing different barley varieties in the same field reduced pest attacks. They also developed better knowledge of the genome of barley and how the plant’s own signal substances can combat pests.
Genes reveal their own resistance
Work on barley genes continues. In 2016, a completed Stockholm University thesis reported the result that a number of genes in barley appear to confer resistance against oat aphids and closely related pests.
One way of investigating the effects of genes is to transfer them to other plants, in this case thale cress, and investigate the impact on the latter. The results showed that one of the genes gave thale cress stronger resistance against peach aphids, which are related to oat aphids.
Another thesis project at Stockholm University, which is expected to be finished this autumn, involves analysing in greater depth how these and other genes affect plants’ capacity to withstand aphid attacks.
At the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) in Alnarp, the results from PlantComMistra are being used for further research, partly for the purpose of eliminating the kinds of genes that are believed to favour oat aphids. The idea is to use the new, highly specific CRISPR method to induce mutations.
SLU in Uppsala recently published results concerning the ‘scent cocktails’ of barley and other crops and how they affect other plants nearby, and attract or repel aphids. In the course of the programme, instruments were purchased that are invaluable for studies of this kind and enable the work to continue.
‘Now we’ve got hard data on which substances a specific barley variety secretes under different light conditions. The air flow from this variety can affect another one nearby so as to change the distribution of biomass between shoots and roots,’ says Lisbeth Jonsson.
The original point of PlantComMistra was to meet increasingly stringent requirements imposed on chemicals in agriculture by the EU Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Directive of 2014.