Biotech Updates

Friendly Fungus Tapped to Induce Pest Resistance in Beans, Cassava

November 7, 2012

Fungi have long been used in organic pest control. Commercially-available fungal "bio-pesticides" are diluted and sprayed directly onto crops or the ground around them. This method, however, requires liters and liters of diluted fungal pesticides to safeguard a whole field which will be expensive for smallholder farmers. Thus, scientists from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) will use a new approach to maximize the potential of fungi in combating pests by introducing a particular strain of fungus to live inside the cassava and beans.

The CIAT/USDA scientists hope to prove that the commercially-available Beauveria bassiana fungus can be transferred into bean and cassava crops--a sort of fungal vaccination. Instead of directly killing the pests, they hope to show that the fungus will help boost the plants' natural defenses against them. For beans, they will spray the fungus onto the flowers of mother plants to see if it is passed on to the seeds. If successful, it could provide the progeny with some level of built-in pest resistance. For cassava, which is propagated through the planting of stem cuttings from mother plants, they will spray the cuttings. The project will be funded by a Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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