Queen’s University research could help reduce global crop losses

Technology from researchers at Queen’s University Belfast could reduce crop losses around the world by combating parasitic "nematodes" that annually destroy approximately 12 percent of global agriculture productivity. 

A Phase II Grand Challenges Exploration grant has been awarded for continuing research with "peptide mimics" that are the parasites’ own brain chemistry, causing confusion and impotence. The research will be primarily on bananas and plantains and will be finished in Belfast with trials to take place in Kenya. 

"This project builds on our previous research where we developed a novel way of interfering with parasitic nematode host-finding behavior," Johnathan Dalzell, lead researcher from the Queen’s Institute for Global Food Security, said. "Through our lab work we have identified a family of peptide mimics, which specifically and potently interfere with their neurobiology, disorientating the parasites so they can’t find the host plant. They then die quickly through lack of food.

"Importantly, these peptide mimics appear to have no impact on non-target animals," he said. "This is a clean, and robust approach to parasite control. Our aim is to develop a variety of approaches which harness this new technology in order to protect crops plants from these parasitic worms. We have chosen to focus on banana and plantain as these crops are highly susceptible to a range of pests and diseases, including nematodes, insects, viral and fungal pathogens. Developing a broad-spectrum nematode control strategy represents a significant challenge, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, which is a hotbed for pathogens which can break resistance strategies. This is yet another example of how Queen’s is having a global impact and is using its research findings to improve how our world functions.”

The first glasshouse trials will begin in Nairobi, Kenya, thanks to the grant awarded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Field testing in Kenya still needs approval.

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