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Researchers working to combat a cabbage stem flea beetle in oilseed rape have secured a fresh injection of funds. Fight against flea beetle gets fresh funding injection

Researchers working to combat a cabbage stem flea beetle in oilseed rape have secured a fresh injection of funds.

The £1.8m BBSRC Industrial Partnership Award will help scientists at the John Innes Centre and Rothamsted Research work with industry partners to find much-needed solutions to tackle the devastating pest.

UK crop losses to flea beetle were estimated at 6.4% in 2016/17 rising to 15% in some counties. Some crops were written off entirely. The pest is increasingly problematic since neonicotinoid-based pesticides were banned as seed treatments.

The escalation has led to questions over the future of the UK oilseed rape crop. Although high prices have seen some growers return to the crop, the oilseed rape area declined by 35%  between 2012 and 2019.

In place of pesticide use which is damaging to biodiversity, the research-industry partnership led by the John Innes Centre is implementing an integrated pest management approach. Key to this is the use of pest resistant oilseed rape cultivars.

The project will enable researchers to identify genetic markers – landmarks within the crop genome. Scientists say this will guide breeders in developing resistant varieties of oilseed rape that are less palatable to flea beetle.

Further research into the lifecycle and feeding preferences of the beetle is being carried out by entomologists and two post-graduate researchers at the John Innes Centre where the first in-house breeding population of the pest was established.

Partnership approach

Project manager Rachel Wells, who is the principal investigator of the successful bidding team, said: “This is fantastic news, and it means we can accelerate vital work in combating this significant pest.

“The success of the bid has been made possible with the support of a strong network of industrial partners which we have built over time. Through this partnership approach we are addressing an important problem for industry, turning scientific discovery into solutions.” 

Dr Wells will be working with the group of John Innes Centre colleague Steve Penfield who is a co-investigator in the project.

Industrial Partnership Awards encourage and support collaboration between academic research groups and industry. They are academic-led grants with significant industrial involvement. Industry partners contribute at least equivalent to 10% of the full project costs.

Partners in this research project include seven crop breeding companies – DSV, KWS, Limagrain, Bayer, Elsoms, RAGT and LS Plant Breeding – and the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board.

Rothamsted Research scientific project leader Sam Cook and colleague Frederic Beaudoin will examine the mechanisms that determine the feeding preferences of adult cabbage stem flea beetles – and the survival and development of their larvae.