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Research is currently underway to study new ways of encapsulating and applying entomopathogenic nematodes (EPN) to better combat the invasive and destructive fall armyworm in Africa.

PhD student Patrick Fallet is investigating the possibility of a novel biocontrol approach which will attract the armyworm caterpillars to beads containing biocontrol agents such as the insect-killing EPN.

The beads will be also laced with plant-derived attractants and the armyworm’s own attractive body odour. The caterpillars will ingest the nematodes upon feeding on the beads, which will lead to their death. Nematodes will propagate inside the armyworm cadavers, then exit in large numbers and may infect new armyworms or migrate down the maize plant and kill soil insect pests.

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Patrick in the lab in Rwanda

Patrick recently travelled to Rwanda to carry out some of the first stages of his research. In Rwanda, maize is grown all year round, allowing for the endless multiplication of armyworms. In mid-April, together with experts from the Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resource Board, soils were surveyed for locally adapted EPN. Using local, instead of foreign strains, will help to avoid introducing new species in Rwanda and the associated registration hurdles, once a biocontrol solution has been developed.

It is hoped that this latest research will contribute to the fight against fall armyworm in Africa which is currently devastating maize and other crops in at least 30 African countries, placing at risk the food security and livelihoods of around 300 million people.

Patrick is studying at the University of Neuchâtel in Switzerland, and is being co-supervised by CABI scientist Dr Stefan Toepfer, an expert in nematode-based biocontrol product development and Prof Ted Turlings, a scientist in chemical ecology at the University of Neuchâtel. Patrick is also able to make use of CABI’s laboratories at its Swiss centre in Delémont.

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