Fresh from the Field, April 26, 2018

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Fresh from the Field is a weekly album showcasing transformative impacts made by partners supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Editor: Falita Liles                                                                                                 April 26, 2018

Success Stories 

Photo Martin Hauser Fresh From the Field NIFAImpacts Liles

California Biologists Manipulate Genes to Control Invasive Fly

Biologists at the University of California San Diego have developed a way to manipulate the genes of an agricultural pest that has caused millions of dollars in damage to high-value berry and other fruit crops. Research led by Anna Buchman, in the lab of insect genetics professor Omar Akbari, describes the world’s first mechanism for manipulating genetic inheritance in Drosophila suzukii, a fruit fly commonly known as the spotted-wing drosophila. Buchman and her colleagues developed a so-called “gene drive” system termed Medea (after the mythological Greek enchantress who killed her offspring) to dramatically influence inheritance rates.

Native to Japan, the highly invasive fly was first found on the West Coast in 2008 and has now been reported in more than 40 states. The fly uses a sharp organ known as an ovipositor to pierce ripening fruit and deposit eggs directly inside, making it much more damaging than other flies that lay eggs only on top of decaying fruit. Drosophila suzukii has reportedly caused more than $39 million in revenue losses for the California raspberry industry alone and an estimated $700 million overall per year in the United States. 

In experiments using the new gene drive system, the researchers reported up to 100 percent effective inheritance bias over 19 generations of flies; applications for the new gene drive system could include spreading genetic elements that confer susceptibility to certain environmental factors, such as temperature. If a certain temperature is reached, for example, the genes within the modified spotted wing flies would trigger its death. Other species of fruit flies would not be impacted by this system.

NIFA supports this project with the Hatch Act Program.

Read the full story at UC Davis News Center. Photo: Martin Hauser.

News Coverage 

Photo by Karole Osborne/LSU Ag Fresh from the Field NIFAImpacts

4-H’ers Learn how to Open a Cooperative Business

Teen 4-H’ers learned firsthand how to form and operate a cooperative business at the annual Co-op Youth Leadership Conference held April 6-8 at the Louisiana State University (LSU) AgCenter.

The conference drew 90 teens from across Louisiana for a weekend of workshops, interactive games, and fun activities that encourage students to explore the cooperative way of doing business.

4-H’ers learn what it means to be a patron of a working cooperative by making an investment; purchasing shares; and working together as a team to select a business name, elect a board of directors and president, and hire a manager and employees to form the co-op leadership.

NIFA supports the 4-H Program

Read the full article at LSU Ag Center. Photo by Karole Osborne/LSU Ag. 

The Library 

Ph.D. student Travis Parker is helping breed bean varieties that can flourish in organic systems. Photo/ Bob Johnson, Ag Alert

Study Provides Evidence of Parental Infanticide in a Grassland Bird Species

University of Illinois (UI) researchers didn’t go looking for birds committing parental infanticide. They had been monitoring dickcissel nests as part of a larger ongoing study examining the effects of fire, grazing, and herbicide application on the grassland-dwelling species. The team trained high-definition video cameras on the nests to monitor diet and feeding behavior.

Baby birds go missing from their nests all the time. Usually, the disappearances are chalked up to predation, but in extremely rare cases, parents have been observed removing their own chicks from their nests. The new study documents the mysterious and fatal behavior in dickcissels for the first time.

Because it was a one-time observation and not the goal of the original study, the researchers can’t prove their hypotheses. But the discovery leaves open the possibility that parental infanticide is happening more often than previously thought.

NIFA supports this research through the Hatch Act Program.

Read the full article at the University of Illinois News. Photo: Scott Nelson-UI. 

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NIFAImpacts Fresh from the Field April 26