Did you know that ornamental flowers are amongst the main export products of the Netherlands? Well, now you do. So you can imagine the Dutch not liking tiny pest insects (aphids and thrips) damaging and infesting them with viruses.
Pesticides are one of the ways to go about it, but what if we develop plants that are better genetically suited? There is a lot of natural variation in defense mechanisms in plants, offering a rich source of possibilities to breed for plants with a better resistance. First step is to identify crop lines that are more resistant than others. Typically this is done by scoring damage to the plants, but this only tells one part of the story. To reveal the mechanisms of resistance, you have to start with the behavioral indicators of the insects on the leaves. But with these little creatures measuring about 1 or 2 millimeters, you can image how labor intensive that is.
The need for automation
What’s the human answer to labor intensive processes? Automate them. This is what the EthoGenomics project (started this year) plans to establish. First the behaviors that are an indicator for host plant resistance are determined. Then these behaviors are quantified with EthoVision XT behavior tracking software. Finally, hardware is developed to automate high-throughput screening for these behaviors on a large number of crop lines.
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- Automatically track behvaior in any developmental stage
- Suitable for tracking in any arena
- A range of parameters for individual moving patterns to group behavior
Genes and markers
After quantifying insect resistance, follows the “Genomics” part of this project. Genes and molecular markers for different resistance mechanisms will be identified in the model plant Arabidopsis and later this knowledge will be transferred to other crops. More details on this research project can be found at http://www.noldus.com/projects/ethogenomics and http://www.pri.wur.nl/UK/research/sustainable-production/resistent/Ethogenomics/