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France-Based Lab Plays Key Role in U.S. Biocontrol Research / April 17, 2001 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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Photo: A state-of-the-art quarantine facility is located next to the European Biological Control Laboratory.  Link to photo information

Read: more details in Agricultural Research.

France-Based Lab Plays Key Role in U.S. Biocontrol Research

By Jan Suszkiw
April 17, 2001

Parasitic wasps, flies, fungi and bacteria abound at the Agricultural Research Service’s European Biological Control Laboratory (EBCL) in Montpellier, France. There, ARS and collaborating scientists are subjecting these organisms to a battery of tests aimed at pitting them against non-native insects and weeds that endanger U.S. agriculture.

Montpellier, on France’s Mediterranean coast, is a strategic locale: From this seaside city, EBCL scientists can hop flights to the pests’ points of origin in North Africa, the Middle East, Balkans and Asia, where natural enemies can be found. Typically, they’ll explore sites where the crops, climate or habitat matches a particular U.S. region where a pest has become established and a biocontrol agent is needed.

Entomologists Kim Hoelmer and Dominique Coutinot, for example, are now rearing Hymenopterous wasps, collected last fall from Tunisia, that parasitize olive fruit flies. In California, the fly’s establishment threatens the state’s $33.9 million olive industry. Charles Pickett, a California Department of Food and Agriculture cooperator, is seeking fruit fly parasites that could be released into olive groves as part of an integrated approach to controlling the pest.

Tim Widmer, meanwhile, is testing the host specificity, virulence and other features of dozens of fungi and bacteria cultured from salt cedar, yellow starthistle, giant reed and other Eurasian weeds. While collecting diseased reed specimens in Nepal’s wetland areas in September, the plant pathologist picked up--and had to pick off--another inhabitant: leeches. Widmer’s stateside cooperators have requested pathogens from the weeds’ native range that could help diminish U.S. infestations of these pesky plants.

Some other pests on the EBCL “hit-list” include diamondback moths, gypsy moths, pink hibiscus mealybug, Asian long-horned beetles, wheat stem sawflies, apple leafrollers, knapweed, hoary cress, and rush skeleton weed.

You can read a longer story about the Montpellier lab and its scientists in this month’s issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s principal scientific research agency.

Scientific contact: Chuck Quimby, director, ARS European Biological Control Laboratory, 34988 St. Gely du Fesc Cedex, France, phone (33) 4 99 62 30 00, fax (33) 4 99 62 30 49, cquimby@ars-ebcl.org.

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