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Alberto Fereres Castiel, Institute of Agricultural Sciences

"Milder winters and globalization increase crop diseases"

Yesterday, the Institute of Natural Resources and Agro-biology of Salamanca (IRNASA) began to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), the state agency to which it belongs, with the first of a series of lectures. Alberto Fereres Castiel, a scientist at the Institute of Agricultural Sciences (ICA, CSIC located in Madrid), talked about the developments made in the investigation of emerging diseases transmitted by insects, that threaten crops.

"Humans are affected by mosquitoes that transmit diseases such as malaria and plants suffer the same kind of attacks by pathogens, which may be caused by viruses or bacteria," said the expert, who studies how insects transmit these organisms.

One of the best-known diseases transmitted in this way is the citrus sadness, caused by a virus of the Closteroviridae family, via aphids. However, there are many other diseases that seriously damage food production. Alberto Fereres spoke mainly about two problems affecting Spain and Italy.

The horticultural crops grown in greenhouses in Almeria and Murcia, such as zucchini or melon, are under attack by the New Delhi disease, which originated in Asia and is transmitted by the whitefly and is causing considerable losses, he said.

In southern Italy, a bacterium is causing very serious damage to trees. The disease kills trees and has now reached 40,000 hectares. "This bacterium is also transmitted by an insect and we are dedicated to studying how it is transmitted to try to stop its spread," said the researcher.

According to Fereres Castiel, these diseases are increasing for two reasons. The first reason is the increase in average and night temperatures, which have caused winters to be milder. "Some insects are spreading to areas they didn't inhabit previously because they were too cold," he said. "Southern Europe is being affected by diseases of tropical origin because the insects are better adapted to the mild winters there."

The second big problem comes with globalization, as there is an increase in the exchange of plant material. "Thanks to trade, someone could easily and unknowingly transport a disease that was in India to another country where the agent or insect vector can disperse," he said.

Conferences of the 75th anniversary of the CSIC
The IRNASA has scheduled two other conferences as part of the CSIC's 75th anniversary. César Fernández-Quintanilla Gallastegui, from the Institute of Agricultural Sciences, will speak about the "Application of precision agriculture management of weeds" on Thursday December 11. For his part, Francisco Javier García Giráldez, from the Mountain Livestock Institute, will be talking about the "Current challenges of research in ruminant nutrition" on Thursday December 18. Both conferences will take place at noon in the IRNASA.

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