Nav: Home

Scientists' new way to identify microscopic worm attacking coffee crops

May 16, 2018

The plants which produce one of the most popular drinks in the world, coffee, are targeted by a microscopic worm, but scientists are fighting back.

An underestimated problem in coffee farming, the parasite has been found in soil samples across the coffee growing world thanks to a new and quick detection method.

Details of the method are published in the journal Phytopathology and the researchers hope it will be used to further understand which species live where, so growers can take mitigating actions and protect our morning brew.

Around two billion cups of coffee are consumed worldwide every day. This supply of coffee beans is challenged by two major nematode species which live in the soil and damage the roots of the coffee plant with no specific symptoms.

The nematodes feed on the plant roots, weakening the plant and ultimately cause yield loss. The nematodes also enjoy banana and black pepper plants, which are often grown alongside coffee providing a rich environment for them to thrive.

A team led by the University of Leeds, working with Nestlé agronomists and researchers, as well as international academic colleagues, took soil samples from plantations in Brazil, Vietnam and Indonesia. They analysed these samples to identify DNA from the worms and found them at damaging levels wherever they looked.

The problem of nematode worms targeting coffee crops has been previously reported. However this is the first molecular-based study to assess plant-parasitic nematodes in coffee fields by sampling multiple crop plants in three major coffee producing countries.

Peter Urwin, Professor of Plant Nematology at the University of Leeds Faculty of Biological Sciences said: "We found widespread evidence of these parasites. The exact species vary by country and looking at soil samples, I can tell the difference between Vietnam and Brazil or Indonesia. The sad fact is that wherever we take samples, we find plant-parasitic nematodes, which are hugely damaging to coffee crops."

The average coffee plant has a 20 year lifespan and is a significant investment for a farmer. They are sometimes grown alongside banana and black pepper which gives a broader income stream, but may compound the problem. The researchers say one mitigation method could be to separate the crops so if one gets infected the others are not threatened.

Professor Urwin added: "In vineyards, growers often plant pest-resistant but less desirable grapes and then "graft" preferable grape varieties onto the vines to protect against root parasites. Once we have a better picture of which parasites attack which coffee crops and which coffee plants are resistant, this approach could be an option for growers."

The work was carried out by PhD researcher, Christopher Bell. He said: "We were alarmed by the number of parasites we found in our samples and hope our method will be taken up by others so we better understand what we are facing. Ultimately, farmers and growers should benefit from this work and take appropriate mitigating actions."
-end-
Further information

This research is supported by a KTN CASE studentship and by Nestlé.

For facts about coffee, visit the British Coffee Association.

Journalists with questions or interview requests should contact Peter Le Riche in the University of Leeds press office on +44 113 343 2049 or email p.leriche@leeds.ac.uk

University of Leeds

Related Parasites Articles:

Deciphering plant immunity against parasites
Nematodes are a huge threat to agriculture since they parasitize important crops such as wheat, soybean, and banana; but plants can defend themselves.
Malaria parasites 'walk through walls' to infect humans
Researchers have identified proteins that enable deadly malaria parasites to 'walk through cell walls' -- a superpower that was revealed using the Institute's first insectary to grow human malaria parasites.
Scientists analyze dispersal of parasites by birds in the Americas
An international study investigates transmission of microorganisms that cause malaria and other diseases from migratory to resident avian species.
What's the buzz on bee parasites?
Published today in the open-access journal GigaScience is an article that presents the genome sequence and analysis of the honey bee parasitic mite T. mercedesae.
Major drug initiatives are best way to curb threat from parasites
Large-scale programmes to treat a life-threatening disease could improve the health of millions despite concerns about their long-term effects, a study suggests.
Promoting parasites
Hiroshima University scientists have identified a new species of parasite infecting an invasive freshwater fish on the subtropical island of Okinawa, Japan.
Sunflower pollen protects bees from parasites
Solitary mason bees specializing on sunflower pollen were not attacked by a common brood-parasitic wasp, which lays eggs in the nests, where its larvae kill bee eggs and eat their pollen provisions.
Trouble with parasites? Just migrate!
The researchers developed a model to explore whether combating infection could, in theory, be a potential benefit of migration.
Bird genomes contain 'fossils' of parasites that now infect humans
In rare instances, DNA is known to have jumped from one species to another.
Common pesticides kill amphibian parasites, study finds
A recent study by Jessica Hua, assistant professor of biological sciences at Binghamton University, and colleagues, explored the effects of six commonly used pesticides on two different populations of a widespread parasite of amphibians.

Related Parasites Reading:

This Is Your Brain on Parasites: How Tiny Creatures Manipulate Our Behavior and Shape Society
by Kathleen McAuliffe (Author)

Parasite Rex: Inside the Bizarre World of Nature's Most Dangerous Creatures
by Carl Zimmer (Author)

Guess What Came to Dinner?: Parasites and Your Health
by Ann Louise Gittleman Ph.D. CNS (Author)

What's Eating You?: Parasites -- The Inside Story (Animal Science)
by Nicola Davies (Author), Neal Layton (Illustrator)

The Wild Life of Our Bodies: Predators, Parasites, and Partners That Shape Who We Are Today
by Dr. Rob Dunn (Author)

Human Parasites: Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention
by Heinz Mehlhorn (Author)

Parasites: Tales of Humanity's Most Unwelcome Guests
by Rosemary Drisdelle (Author)

New Guinea Tapeworms and Jewish Grandmothers: Tales of Parasites and People
by Robert S. Desowitz (Author)

How to Get Your Life Back From Morgellons and Other Skin Parasites Limited Edit
by Mr Richard L. Kuhns (Author), Mr. Richard L. Kuhns (Author), Ms Jonquelyn Kalmbah (Illustrator)

Parasites: An Epidemic in Disguise
by Stanley Weinberger (Author)

Best Science Podcasts 2018

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2018. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Hacking The Law
We have a vision of justice as blind, impartial, and fair — but in reality, the law often fails those who need it most. This hour, TED speakers explore radical ways to change the legal system. Guests include lawyer and social justice advocate Robin Steinberg, animal rights lawyer Steven Wise, political activist Brett Hennig, and lawyer and social entrepreneur Vivek Maru.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#495 Earth Science in Space
Some worlds are made of sand. Some are made of water. Some are even made of salt. In science fiction and fantasy, planet can be made of whatever you want. But what does that mean for how the planets themselves work? When in doubt, throw an asteroid at it. This is a live show recorded at the 2018 Dragon Con in Atlanta Georgia. Featuring Travor Valle, Mika McKinnon, David Moscato, Scott Harris, and moderated by our own Bethany Brookshire. Note: The sound isn't as good as we'd hoped but we love the guests and the conversation and we wanted to...