Natural pesticides could save billions in wheat crops

Scientists in Britain and Ukraine have found a new, natural way of eliminating nematodes in wheat fields. Their discovery could help feed the world’s growing population. 

Little parasitic worms called nematodes kill around $130 billion worth of wheat every year.

Killing those pests with toxic pesticides might cause more problems they would solve, just like killing insects that are vital to our ecosystems.

Now scientists in Britain and Ukraine said they have found a new natural way of eliminating nematodes in wheat fields.

Publishing their work in the journal Frontiers in Plant Science, the scientists claimed they discovered how to kill the nematodes and ‘silence’ wheat genes that make the plant vulnerable to the worm using bacteria called “biostimulants” that appear naturally in the soil.

“With a rising global population needing to be fed, and an urgent need to switch from fossil fuels to biofuels, our research is an important step forward in the search for environmentally safe crop protection which doesn’t harm bees or other insects,” said University of Sussex mathematician Konstantin Blyuss in a press release.

Farmers would apply the biostimulants to the seeds, plants or soil to eliminate the worms and make the plants hardier. The biostimulants don’t hurt other critters in the soil.

“By soaking the seeds of the plant in the solution of biostimulants, the plant becomes a ‘Trojan horse’ for delivering special compounds produced inside the plants to the nematodes, which then kills them,” Blyuss said. We’ve targeted the specific genes of the nematode, so we know this won’t affect other creatures.”

Plants soaked in the biostimulants enjoy a 57 to 92 per cent better chance of surviving while nematodes levels drop by as much as 83 per cent in the soil, the scientists claim.

Image credit: Brad Higham via Flickr

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