Potato farmers in Kenya and neighboring states within the East Africa region will soon get back to increased yields as scientists discover new way to manage the deadly potato microscopic worms.
A study by the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe), International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), North Carolina State University, USA, and Kenyatta University, Kenya shows that It may be possible to manage potato cyst nematodes (PCN) by inducing ‘suicidal hatching’ of the pests using naturally occurring chemicals in crop roots.
“Management of PCN is particularly challenging due to the pest’s ability to survive in the soil as tiny protective cysts. These cysts can contain up to 600 eggs, but are able to remain dormant in the absence of a host plant for up to 20 years even. Once a field is infested with PCN, it is impossible to eradicate the pest. Therefore, a possible effective approach is to avoid the build-up and spread of the pest,” says Prof. Baldwyn Torto, Head, Behavioural and Chemical Ecology Unit, icipe.
The findings have been published in Frontiers in Plant Science journal (paper link: https://bit.ly/30z440W).
The recent studies by icipe and partners aimed to achieve this goal by exploring several known facts about PCN.
The aim of the study was to identify signals, and whether they can be exploited to induce hatch of PCN juveniles in the absence of host crops and thus lead to their eventual death; or rather the ‘suicidal hatch’ of the nematodes.
“We noted that most juvenile PCN that hatched in response to some chemical signals, known as steroidal glycoalkaloids (SGAs) and steroidal alkaloids (SAs), remained encysted. In other words, they did not leave the cyst to invade crop roots but remained encapsulated in the cyst,” noted Juliet Ochola (Kenya), who was involved in the research as part of her MSc studies, based at icipe and registered at Kenyatta University.
Prof. Danny Coyne, Soil Health Scientist, IITA, further explains that the SGAs and SAs could be used in synthentic forms to stimulate suicidal hatch of PCN in infested fields before farmers plant potatoes.
Alternatively, plants that produce the chemicals but are not usually infected by PCN could be incorporated in a crop rotation system to stimulate PCN hatch, thereby reducing populations of the pest.
The invasive nematode pests are currently a key threat to potato production and a number of cultivated crops in eastern Africa.
PCNs were first reported in Kenya in 2015, and have since been confirmed from other countries in eastern Africa.
Studies by icipe and partners have shown that PCN is causing up to 80 percent yield loss in potato, one of the region’s most important crops.