Xylella fastidiosa, a phytopathogenic bacterium that attacks almond trees without cure, currently affects 1,700 hectares of 72 Alicante municipalities distributed throughout the regions of the Marina Alta, Marina Baixa, the County, Alcoy and Alicante. The only formula to combat the problem so far has been the destruction of the trees, 81,000 of which are included in the eradication plan carried out by the Department of Agriculture under the guidelines of the European Union (EU).
In this context, the UA has begun to work on a possible cure, through an agreement with the Ministry of Agriculture. The agreement describes a four-year funding commitment for the development of a project with three principal investigators. It is, specifically, Francis Mojica, microbiologist and discoverer of the Crispr genetic repair system; Jesus Garcia, also a microbiologist; Y Caesar Bordehore, biologist and expert in dynamic systems modeling and coordinator of the Montgó-Dénia Scientific Station.
The initiative, which takes place both in the UA campus laboratories and in the scientific station, aims to address a possible solution to this plant disease from the use of natural proteins encoded in the xylella fastidiosa genome itself. As explained Carlos Bordehore, «Although it is in an initial phase, at least at the laboratory level, active molecules have been identified that could be candidates for a future vaccine-like preventive action, although it really is not, or curative, similar to the effect of an antibiotic to fight against this plague that plagues several countries and different plant species ».
This research is not only a starting point to try to tackle this problem with the almond tree in the province, but also It is also affecting other species such as olive, citrus and vine in different countries of the world, so its impact can be more than significant in this sector.
But, while this project represents a thread of hope for farmers, at the same time another plague continues to advance through the province, such as the hornet, which although it does not have such lethal consequences for the almond trees, it is causing on the contrary major losses. La Unió, based on a study prepared by the technical services of the organization, warns that it already affects 55% of the plantations of this crop in the Valencian Community, a percentage that can be extrapolated to the province of Alicante, where the losses linked to damages in production and phytosanitary expenses exceed one million euros.
This pest, considered one of the most important that affects the almond tree, is already present in all Mediterranean countries, spreading from east to west. In the Valencian Community it was detected for the first time in 2016, specifically in the regions of Valle de Ayora-Cofrentes and Utiel-Requena. With regard to the province of Alicante, its presence is currently located in Alto Vinalopó, Vinalopó Medio, l’Alacantí, the Marina Baixa and l’Alcoià.
The so-called eurytoma amigdali is a black wasp about eight millimeters long. Its caterpillars spend the summer and winter inside the almond, feeding on it until, after chrysalising, it goes outside between mid-March and early April. Affected fruits remain on the tree after harvesting with a dehydrated, grayish appearance and smaller than healthy fruits. For this reason, it is very important to remove, before sprouting, all affected almonds and destroy them, thus preventing the larvae from becoming adults.
The great danger of this pest, according to the person in charge of the dried fruit sector of La Unió, Ricardo Beltran, it is the lack of coordination and the fact that it does not serve only with the treatment and control individually. “If my neighbor on the plot has abandoned almond trees and does not act against the wasp, my effort and the investments I make in treatments are useless,” he emphasizes. The Unió de Llauradors, in this sense, claims in the short term, while the control and minimization of damage is not achieved, a package of direct aid to the affected producers that compensates the losses caused by this foreign pest.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.