Protecting rice plants by exploiting their natural defences

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Researchers in Indonesia have deciphered the chemical cues used by rice to attract a parasitoid that helps fight off the plant’s predator. The researchers created a system to imitate these cues, which could help investigate similar interactions in other crops and possible sources of non-toxic pest control.

Rice is a staple food, relied upon by half the global population. The brown planthopper (pix) is one of rice’s most destructive pests, causing damage by wounding the stem of the plants to lay the eggs for the next attack and by transmitting viruses that attack the plant.

Researchers from Universitas Negeri Malang and the Indonesian Sweetener and Fibre Crops Research Institute wanted to see if they could target the brown planthopper without using pesticides known to harm the environment.

To do this, they investigated the so-called ‘tritrophic interaction’ between rice, the brown planthopper and the parasitoids that prey on the brown planthopper’s eggs.

They extracted samples from rice infected by the brown planthopper and analysed their chemical makeup. They then compared this to what they found in samples taken from healthy rice, identifying the chemical differences between healthy and infested rice.

The results, published in the Pertanika Journal of Science and Technology, could guide further trials to see if applying the chemical cue could actually reduce the pest’s destruction of rice paddies; and if so, to what degree.

The use of analytical chemistry offers insights into the mechanisms underlying these interactions and detect small changes taking place in great detail.