Worldwide parasitic weeds represent one of the most destructive and intractable problems to agricultural production in both developed and developing countries. It is known that approximatelly 20 plant families (3,000–5,000 species) could serve as hosts to parasitic weeds. Through parasitism, it is estimated that production losses could be 30–80% in staple food and industrial crops on every continent.
Broomrapes are holoparasitic weeds that cause significant yield and quality losses in many important crops and affect the livelihoods of peoples in many countries around the world including the Mediterranean region. Yield losses range from 5% to 100% depending on host susceptibility, level of infestation and environmental conditions. Grain legumes are the primary source of protein in the Near East and North Africa and people's ability to rely on these crops to provide food security is severely threatened by broomrape’s infestation. Many countries that were once exporters of food legumes and vegetables have been forced to become net importers of these commodities in order to meet local demand, due to broomrape infestation.
Regarding the specific Call, Thematic Area (2: Sustainable farming systems under Mediterranean environmental constraints) and Topic (1.2.2. Preventing and Controlling Emergence of Animal and Plant Diseases), ZeroParasitic aims to support sustainable farming systems that are under severe threat from broomrapes in most Mediterranean countries. In order to achieve effective protection against broomrape plant parasitism, prevention is the most important solution, as it will minimize its adverse socioeconomic effects. For this reason, ZeroParasitic invests on research activities that explicitly target prevention.Nevertheless, standard methods and one-dimension solutions are not adequate. Therefore, multidisciplinary approaches are necessary, combined with the utilization of innovative tools (e.g. genetic and molecular and technology tools), mainly because of the compelexity of the issue. Also, it has to be stressed that up to now there is no efficient treatment of broomrape plant parasitism. In this context, identification of new resistant/tolerant traits together with IPM strategies would increase crop yield and quality and result in the reduction of inputs such as agrochemicals, pesticides and other energy inputs. This will represent important direct (i.e. soil and aquifer contamination) and indirect (i.e. greenhouse gas emissions) environmental and economic benefits for society in general and for farmers in particular.
In more detail, ZeroParasitic highly pertains to the specific Call and Topic, as it aims to contribute towards a better understanding of ecology, physiology and parasite-plant interactions. To achieve the above, the project will be based on the following operational functions related to the call:
- a) A multi-actor approach: Participatory involvement of key stakeholders (e.g. farmers, advisors, and industry). The project entails a detailed examination of the dynamics and interrelationships of actors (WP6 and 7) and additionally explores a variety of opportunities and barriers regarding broomrape parasitism at the molecular and technical level (WP2, WP4 and WP5). What is even more important, however, is that ZeroParasitic will seek to involve actors from Day 1 and to mobilize them by triggering discussions and deliberation of the proposed solutions, through the dissemination platform (WP7) and the development of a surveillance tool for parasitism (WP3). Specific roles will be assigned to different actors, according to their capacity and commitment, thus incorporating stakeholder practical and informal knowledge against broomrape parasitism (without the use of chemical solutions).
- b) A trans-disciplinary approach: Experts in agriculture, biology, chemistry, genetics, plant protection, ecology, environmental protection, social and environmental economics are brought together within ZeroParasitic. One of the main realizations behind the project main idea is that coordinated efforts are needed from various disciplines, as only a holistic approach of the issue will lead to efficient solutions.
- c) A strong social and economic approach. In particular, ZeroParasitic will approach production systems through a systems thinking perspective, also building on stakeholder involvement from the beginning of the Project. This will help understand the dynamics of stakeholders, which have influenced the development of the current situation. More than that, however, this approach will allow to understand the decision-making process of stakeholders, thus enabling the design of strategies that will ensure high adoption rates of the project outcomes.
Particular elements of ZeroParasitic which are of importance to Topic 1.2.2 of Section 2 Prima Call include
- The use of biocontrol agents such as arbuscular mycorrhiza (AMF) and utilizing insects with specificity to broomrapes, that are ecological approaches and could be used to alleviate the parasite development. Regarding AMF’s, the underlying physiological and molecular mechanisms could provide new regulatory targets to control weed infection, from germination to plant fortification and to improve plant nutrition.
- Hormonal interactions (host-parasite interactions) at different phases of infection is becoming an interesting approach, since it has been mostly focused to some few single hormones such as strigolactones and ABA, which are mostly related to parasite germination.
- Discovery and application of new sustainable system for preventing, controlling and alleviating pest effects is needed in broomrape research topics. Effective means of parasite control are generally lacking, in part because of the close physiological connection between the established parasite and host plant.
- Surveillance tools to map broomrape parasitism In addition, digital tools (UAV’s, remote and satellite images) would help to monitor, record and measure the success of the proposed solutions ate various spatial scales.
- Molecular approaches aiming to identify genetic variability utilizing molecular markers for large scale initial characterization in relation to broomrape tolerance/resistance could lead to selection of appropriate germplasm.
- Understanding the molecular basis of resistance (e.g. PRRs, defense-triggering molecules) could lead to sound understanding host-parasite interactions and provide an excellent base of knowledge to breed resistant crops.
- The development of models to predict parasitism would require inclusion of meanginful parameters into the models, proper validation under various agro-climatic conditions, and extrapolation of the model to include legumes. As a result, the parasitism inavasions could be better estimated and monitoring could be significantly supported; the effect of climate change on the invasión of parasitism would be also assessed.
All operational functions as previously mentioned have to be co-ordinated around the objectives of the project in order to develop sustainable solutions, socio-ecomically validated to meet the complex challenges of the farming community in the Mediterranean region. In this context, strategic positioned projects upon highly needed priority research topics could help to create sound scientific recommendations for regional action plansthrough technological connectivity between less and more advanced innovation regions. ZeroParasitic directly addresses these challenges and it is a bridge of research and technological connectivity and transferability beyond location proximities at a Mediterranean level.