The main objective of the Plant Health Group is to advance high-quality research on global, emerging or invasive agricultural pests and diseases that cause poverty and undermine the food security in developed and developing countries. We aim to utilise the knowledge and intellectual property (IP) gained from this research to develop novel environmentally sustainable solutions, which involve modelling, forecasting, and novel pest & disease management technologies. The development and promotion of integrated pest management (IPM) systems is at the core of the EC's approach to decreasing use of pesticides.
We underpin our work with plant science and microbiology research and aim to provide concerted application of natural and social sciences to reduce the losses caused by pests and diseases. This will improve food security through profitable farming which provides safe and healthy food, while sustaining biodiversity, protecting the environment and decreasing agriculture's carbon footprint. The Group's research activities are centred around:
- Basic research on plant science and microbes including agricultural pests and diseases and the interaction with their hosts
- Molecular biology of plant development, disease and pest organisms
- Development of diagnostic systems for pest and disease organisms
- Capacity-building in IPM and aspects of natural resource management
- Contributing to policy on pest management in agriculture and natural resource conservation
- Adaptive research on IPM component technologies
- Research and development on integrating IPM component technologies into practical and cost-effective pest management systems
- Research and development on alternatives to synthetic biocides in pest and disease management with particular expertise in:
- Insect viruses as biocontrol agents
- GM crops in IPM
- Exploring mechanisms of resistance to pests and diseases in host plants
- Social science research to support sustainable agriculture and enhanced ecosystem services.
- Tissue culture, chemo and thermos-therapies, and virus indexing (PCR and qPCR) technologies for generating virus-free planting material for better crop production
- Developing clean and better seed systems (eg. Sweet potato) by linking seed producers to research and growth markets
- Understanding the mechanisms of virus disease resistance and resistance gene mining using RNA-Sequencing technologies, particularly in cassava
- Exploring insect microbiome diversity by next generation sequencing technologies such as metagenome sequencing for understanding insect-bacterial infections, particularly in whiteflies.