Tuesday, May 28, 2013

What's eating my potato?

Potato flea beetles (genus Epitrix) are known to be serious pests of a wide variety of vegetable crops. Aside from potatoes infestations can occur in tomato, pepper, eggplant, bean, cabbage, corn, cucumber, lettuce and spinach. Damage results through feeding, causing numerous holes in the leaves or the potato itself. This injury eventually kills infested leaves. In addition, potato flea beetles may transmit early blight. In severe cases, the plant can die or production can be strongly diminished emphasizing the importance of scouting and control.

A group of French researchers now propose DNA Barcoding as a tool to reliably identify all developmental stages of the most economically important Epitrix species feeding on potato in Europe and North America (Epitrix cucumeris, Epitrix similaris, Epitrix tuberis, Epitrix subcrinita and Epitrix hirtipennis). The researchers started with testing two different markers (COI and ITS2) for their suitability to differentiate Epitrix species. Both worked fine which is good news for the standard DNA Barcode region COI. Consequently they developed an RFLP-based diagnostic method and showed that unambiguous species discrimination can be achieved by using the restriction enzyme TaqI on COI polymerase chain reaction products. This is very good news as it represents a significant reduction of processing time and cost. Such a RFLP-based DNA Barcoding tool may allow for more extensive sampling and regular monitoring. 

Coincidentally there were some new developments on the regulatory level in Europe:
During the final stages of review of this manuscript, the European commission published a decision (212/270/EU) to prevent the introduction of Epitrix tuberis and Epitrix subcrinita in Europe and limit the spread of Epitrix cucumeris and Epitrix similaris. By enabling the identification of Epitrix specimens at different periods of the life cycle, this diagnostics tool should help member states conducting survey for the presence of potato flea beetles on potato crops as well as other host plant species, as recommended by the European commission. Fast and accurate detection of Epitrix potato flea beetles would help study their potential spread and contribute to their management with minimal disruption to Solanaceae trade.

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