Genomic tools will help facilitate the shift to greener crop protection



    LANGLEY, BC, June 25 /CNW/ - Pesticide-free crops are one step closer to
reality with the launch of a Genome BC research project that will test the
egg-laying capacity of predatory mites as a method of standardizing and
improving biocontrol programs.
    Two-spotted spider mites are a continuing plague to growers in BC and
around the world, where they feed on and damage greenhouse vegetables and
ornamental flowers and plants. But current biocontrol methods for controlling
spider mites, though widely diverse, are not fully meeting the needs of
growers.
    Synthetic pesticides are losing popularity among ecologically conscious
consumers and growers alike. Alternative methods rely on the use of predatory
insects and mites - natural enemies of spider mites.
    The predatory mite, P.persimilis, (Pp) is the most frequently released
natural enemy of spider mites used for the control of these pests on
greenhouse and outdoor crops. Although they have been commercially produced
for many years, the batch-to-batch quality of Pp populations, as defined by
their egg-laying potential, remains inconsistent.
    Brian Spencer is a Pp producer with Applied Bio-nomics, who has
experienced this challenge first-hand. "Currently there is no rapid method of
sorting out the reproductive potential of a given batch of Pp females, which
measure less than a millimeter in size," he says.
    Spencer is part of an international group of Pp producers who, together
with investment from Genome BC, have set out to develop a tool to enhance the
quality of the mite populations and standardize their performance at the time
of their release.
    The research project, entitled Development of a Molecular-based Probe
Test for Assessment of Fecundity of P.persimilis Populations, is led by Dr.
Brian Ellis, Professor and Associate Director of Michael Smith Labs at UBC,
along with a team of multi-disciplinary co-investigators including Anna
Luczynski (Qadra Consulting) and Dr. Yves Thiberghien (UBC).
    The goal of the research is to develop a simple molecular test to quickly
measure the egg-laying potential of Pp populations.
    The research uses proteomics and genomics tools to identify the
biomarkers that can determine the reproductive quality of a given batch.
    "We are looking for protein differences to help us distinguish between
females that have exhausted their egg-laying capacity and ones that are still
fully capable," says Dr. Ellis.
    The first step of the research is to determine whether the protein
differences actually exist and whether they can be identified.
    "Ultimately, we would like to create a probe-test for mite fecundity
(egg-laying capacity) that is similar to a human home pregnancy test," says
Ellis.
    This simple and rapid test has the potential to improve methods of mass
production of P.persimilis, increase the adoption of this biocontrol program
around the world, as well as serve as an example for ways to improve
efficiency of other biological control agents.
    The project also contains a social science and humanities component that
will evaluate the state of the global biocontrol industry, its markets, its
strengths, and the origins of current bottlenecks that limit its growth.
    "We are very pleased to support this vital and innovative research," says
Dr. Alan Winter, Genome BC's President and CEO. "This project will contribute
to moving current agricultural practices towards a greener model for the
future."

    About Genome BC

    Founded in 2000, Genome BC works collaboratively with government,
universities and industry as the catalyst for a genomics-driven life sciences
cluster with significant social and economic benefits for the Province and
Canada. The organization's research portfolio, over $410 million since
inception, includes 74 projects and technology platforms focused on areas of
strategic importance to British Columbia such as human health, forestry,
fisheries, bioenergy, mining, agriculture, ethics and the environment.
    For more information, visit www.genomebc.ca

    
    NOTE TO EDITORS:

    Dr. Brian Ellis will be available for interviews following the
    presentation of his research at the BC Greenhouse Growers Annual Research
    Day.

    Date/Time:   Thursday June 25th, 2009, 9:50 a.m.
    Place:       Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Langley Campus Auditorium
                 20901 Langley By-pass, Langley

    Telephone interviews and photos available on request.



    Background Information

    Testing Mite Egg-laying Potential for Better Biocontrol
    

    PROJECT SUMMARY

    The two-spotted spider mite is a common pest in horticulture and to
control these mites, greenhouses rely on a variety of options, ranging from
integrated pest management (IPM) to, when needed, chemical pesticides. One
option of biocontrol, is a predatory type of mite, Phytoseiulus persimilis
(P.persimilis), which preys on the spider mite. While many growers are
enthusiastic about this option, it's efficacy as a pest-control method
requires improvement.
    The aim of this research is to find molecular differences between virgin
and mated female P. persimilis in order to develop a simple test to assess the
reproductive capacities of commercially produced predatory mites.
    P. persimilis possess many desirable attributes as a biocontrol agent but
their mass production for commercial use is hampered by a lack of knowledge
about the reproductive status of cultured populations. The biomarker-based
test will increase the quality and efficiency of commercial production of P.
persimilis as well as provide a standard for development of other biological
control programs.
    In order to develop a suitable test, biomarkers that can distinguish
between virgin and mated females will be developed by employing both proteomic
and genomic approaches. A simple and rapid test will improve methods of mass
production of P. persimilis as well as serve as an example for ways to improve
efficiency of other biological control agents.
    Genomic resources are not currently available for P. persimilis so the
researchers will develop an expressed sequence tag (EST) database by using two
cDNA libraries from the different populations of P. persimilis. The genes of
interest will be defined as those that are expressed differently between
virgin and mated females.
    The candidate genes that the researchers find will be expressed and used
to develop antibodies. These antibodies will form the basis of a molecular
test for reproductive fecundity that will improve the production of
high-quality biological control agents.
    The social science and humanities (SSH) component of this research, which
will rely on market data collection, a survey and simulations, has two main
goals. The first is to evaluate the state of the global biocontrol industry,
its markets, its strengths, and the origins of current bottlenecks that limit
its growth. The SSH study will also include a larger evaluation of the
potential for expanding the biocontrol industry, based on coordination around
a new label or branding strategy that will market the ecological advances of
bioprotection. The development of possible pathways toward such a label and
various options for realizing it will be explored.

    
    PROJECT LEADER BIOGRAPHY

    Dr. Brian Ellis
    

    Dr. Brian Ellis is a Professor and Associate Director of the Michael
Smith Laboratories at UBC.
    He received his undergraduate education at the University of New
Brunswick in biology and chemistry (1965), and his PhD in plant biochemistry
from the University of British Columbia (1969). After post-doctorate training
in Germany and Ontario, he accepted a faculty position at the University of
Guelph in 1973 in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Among his
other duties at the U. of Guelph, he served as the Acting Director of the
Centre for Plant Biotechnology (1986/87).
    In 1989, Dr. Ellis became Head of the Department of Plant Science at the
University of British Columbia, a position that he held until 1998. During
part of this time, he was also Acting Head of the Department of Soil Science
(1993/94).
    Dr. Ellis' research interests are in the area of plant metabolism. His
current projects include biochemistry and evolution of metabolic enzymes,
discovery of signaling mechanisms through which plants sense and respond to
environmental changes, and genetic engineering of crop and forest plants to
improve their value. He is also interested in the commercial production of
biological control agents for horticultural pests.
    His recent teaching assignments include courses in plant breeding and
biotechnology, plant-microbe interactions, sustainable agriculture and
professional communication. In 2000/01, he served as co-chair of the Royal
Society of Canada Expert Panel on "The Future of Food Biotechnology".

    
    PROJECT CO-INVESTIGATORS

    Anna Luczynski, MSc. (Qadra Consulting Ltd.)

    Dr. Yves Thiberghien (UBC)

    ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

    Project Title: Development of a Molecular-based Probe Test for Assessment
    of Fecundity of P.persimilis Populations

    Project Value: $289,482

    Primary Project Funding: Genome BC

    Co-Funding:
    -   Applied Bio-nomics Ltd
    -   Bio-Bee Biological Systems
    -   Bio-Best Canada
    -   Certis BCP
    -   Investment Agriculture Foundation of BC
    -   Koppert Biological Systems BV
    -   Liu Institute for Global Issues - UBC
    -   Michael Smith Laboratories UBC
    -   Sesil Biological Systems
    -   Syngenta Bioline

    Involved Research Institution: University of British Columbia

    Field of Activity: Biological Pest Control, Agriculture
    

    About Genome BC

    Founded in 2000, Genome BC works collaboratively with government,
universities and industry as the catalyst for a genomics-driven life sciences
cluster with significant social and economic benefits for the Province and
Canada. The organization's research portfolio, over $410 million since
inception, includes 74 projects and technology platforms focused on areas of
strategic importance to British Columbia such as human health, forestry,
fisheries, bioenergy, mining, agriculture, ethics and the environment.
    For more information please visit: www.genomebc.ca




For further information:

For further information: Media contact: Rachael Froese Zamperini,
Communications Consultant, Genome BC, (604) 612-6345 or
rzamperini@genomebc.ca

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GENOME BRITISH COLUMBIA

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