Crop protection plays a vital and integral role in modern-day agricultural production. A present, crop protection against insect and nematode pests in agricultural systems relies almost exclusively on the use of Agro-chemicals. This results in rapid build-up of resistance to such compounds. Moreover, the extensive use of Agro-chemicals has had damaging environmental effects, through toxicity of chemicals towards non tar get species, which have become increasingly unacceptable to the public at large.
For the future it is necessary to develop agricultural systems which reduce the reliance on broad spectrum erradicants and have less impact on the environment. Genetic engineering of plants now offers such a possibility by the introduction of genes that confer resistance to insects and/or diseases and this technology will have an increasing impact in European agriculture. However, with any new technology there are associated risks to be addressed. If the crop is intended for human consumption it is obviously necessary to determine what effects the gene products may have on the consumer. In addition, the transgenic crop may be able to cross-successfully with wild plan species. These risk assessments are being addressed in other programmes eg recent studies funded by the EU have shown that the pollen of oilseed rape can cross with wild crucifers. However, in addition to these biosafety concerns it is also essential to consider the impact of transgenic plants on beneficial organisms. Parasitoids and predators contribute significantly to the reduction of pest populations and pollinators such as bees have an essential role in European agriculture.
This programme aims to investigate the potential impact of transgenic plants on beneficial organisms using a number of model though agronomically important crops.
Out of the gene pool likely to confer resistance to fungal diseases and to pest insects, three gene types of plant origin, which are frequently used for crop protection purpose based on transgenic plants, will be used in this proposal (i.e. chitinases, protease inhibitors, lectins).
The partners will work with a number of genetically modified plants of agronomic interest (oilseed rape, potato) and their associated generalist and specialist parasitoids. The attraction of the plants to both wild and domestic pollinating insects will also be studied. Multi-disciplinary approaches, including chemical and biochemical analyses, neurophysiology, behaviour and modelling, will be conducted. In addition to elucidating the basic mechanisms of modifications in transgenic plant/beneficial insect interactions, this project will develop methodologies to be used for risk assessment of the effects of transgenic plants on beneficial insects.
Funding SchemeCSC - Cost-sharing contracts
AL5 2JQ Harpenden, Herts