Page 1

science matters

Spring 10

Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D

Biodiversity This special issue marking the International Year of Biodiversity shows how we are providing solutions to help farmers across the world maintain biodiversity, crop quality and productivity: Encouraging pollinators by improving habitats Restoring bird numbers in farmed environments Enhancing diversity below ground Special article – perspectives from the Crop Diversity Trust

Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Spring 2010


Contents Science Matters is a magazine supported by the Syngenta Fellows to recognize and communicate the excellent science throughout Syngenta. Summaries of the articles in this issue are given below:

03 Preserving biodiversity – we all have a role to play – Sandro Aruffo Head of Research and Development, Sandro Aruffo, puts biodiversity into context. What are the key challenges and what is Syngenta doing to address these? 04 Bee alert – Jeff Peters 06 Bouquets for bees – André Fougeroux With approximately 30% of the world’s food relying on pollination, the dramatic reduction in pollinating insects, especially bees, has been devastating. Two articles focus on this critical issue. Jeff Peters and André Fougeroux discuss how we are working with farmers around the world to show how field margins can be used to encourage pollinators without significant impact on crop yields.

12 Why use predators when you can spray? – Melvyn Fidgett A central role in maintaining biodiversity is the strategy of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) which provides diverse solutions to farmers, integrating a range of strategies such as chemical use, crop agronomy and biological control. Melvyn Fidgett from Syngenta Bioline illustrates how we are unique in this area. 14 Things are hotting up in the world of peppers – Rik van Wijk Genetic biodiversity is critical in breeding new crop varieties. The “peppers team” describe the challenges they face in breeding new varieties.

08 The bird man of Hillesden – Jeremy Dyson Jeremy Dyson discusses one of the major projects Syngenta is involved in to assess the effectiveness of stewardship biodiversity schemes, with the goal of providing sound scientific opinion to governmental institutions to manage farms for maximal biodiversity.

16 Stewardship and Biodiversity – Richard Brown Syngenta has an excellent reputation for stewardship of our chemical portfolio, minimizing the environmental impact of our products and helping farmers to maximize biodiversity. Richard Brown discusses these challenges and how Syngenta has worked to ensure we maintain this environmentally-friendly reputation.

10 Biodiversity and Birds – Peter Edwards Peter Edwards talks about efforts to improve the biodiversity of birds. He has been working with organisations such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds to put in place farm-based strategies to improve species diversity.

18 Biodiversity is as important below ground as above – Alain Gaume The soil beneath our feet is a rich source of biodiversity that is vital for our food supply. Alain Gaume talks about this complex ecosystem.

20 What’s wrong with weeds? – Peter Sutton Peter Sutton discusses the role of herbicides, weed management and biodiversity, addressing the dilemma farmers’ face in controlling weeds yet still providing food for seed-eating animals. 22 Of pandas and potatoes – Cary Fowler An external perspective on the importance of protecting crop diversity from the Global Crop Diversity Trust. 28 Interviews with Principal Fellows Mary-Dell Chilton and Alain De Mesmaeker Science Matters is a magazine that is driven by the Syngenta Fellows. Here we have two interviews with our only two Principal Fellows; Mary-Dell Chilton and Alain De Mesmaeker. Read how they have had a significant impact in our scientific direction. 26 Snippets – Ashley Collins & Carolyn Riches Our “out and about” reporters have biodiversity stories from across the company 30 Editorial – Stuart John Dunbar Increasing world population, pressures on water availability and managing the impact of climate change mean that we need to “grow more from less”. In order to do this sustainably we also need to protect the biodiversity of the land we use. Senior Syngenta Fellow Stuart John Dunbar illustrates the challenge and how we are rising to it.

Preserving biodiversity – we all have a role to play 2010 has been designated the “International Year of Biodiversity” by the United Nations. It is a celebration of life on Earth and of the value of biodiversity for our lives. It is vitally important to agriculture since it is the origin of all crops and the variety within them. However, you may have read about the loss of species, for example in the Brazilian rainforest, and how agriculture is impacting this. But are you reading the full story? Our seeds business draws on the genetic diversity of food crops to enhance desirable traits, resulting in improved yield, quality and nutritional value. Our crop protection products contribute to conserving biodiversity on farmland by facilitating sustainable agriculture techniques, such as no-till, that prevent damage to soil structure. We also help farmers put field margins and other pockets of non-productive land to good use by creating natural habitats that will support a wide range of species. This provides significant environmental benefit with little or no effect on farm productivity. The genetic diversity of plants is the foundation for our breeders to increase crop productivity and adapting plants to changing consumer needs. The biodiversity of plants allows us to find the native traits – or characteristics – necessary to continuously adapt to changing climates and increasing abiotic stress. Syngenta is supporting the work of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, whose role is to preserve the genetic diversity of crops. Syngenta is actively engaged in many aspects of promoting and educating about the importance of biodiversity in agriculture and how the two must go together to ensure food security. Insects and birds play a key role in maintaining natural diversity and food production. With approximately 30% of the world’s food relying on pollination, and the fact that many flowers and trees also rely on pollination, the dramatic reduction in pollinating insects, especially bees, has been devastating. Our field teams are working with farmers to show how field margins can be used to improve the biodiversity of birds and encourage pollinators, without significant impact on crop yields. Similarly, we are addressing the role of our products for weed management while supporting biodiversity by providing food for seed-eating animals. Our technology is being used to increase yields from the land currently farmed, thereby reducing the pressure to bring more land under cultivation, protecting the biodiversity of the forests and prairies that might otherwise be under pressure for farming use. Syngenta is working with government and non-governmental organizations with the intention to help governments, farmers, consumers and the agricultural industry better understand the challenges facing the sustainable management of agricultural ecosystems and biodiversity. Recently, Syngenta supported the World Business Council for Sustainable Development “Vision 2050” project which calls for a new agenda for business to work with governments and society worldwide to face the challenge of sustainably feeding an increasing population. In this issue of Science Matters, you will learn how we are working together with all aspects of society, providing solutions to help farmers across the world maintain biodiversity, crop quality and productivity. Preserving biodiversity in agriculture is not optional, it is essential for maintaining the natural resources which sustain agriculture – we all have a role to play.

Sandro Aruffo Head of Research & Development

Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Spring 2010


Bee alert Operation Pollinator is Syngenta’s campaign to help reverse the decline of bee populations around the world by improving their habitat. So far this decline has not posed a threat to agriculture in terms of global yields, but might become a threat to future food security if habitat loss is not addressed. Jeff Peters is heading the campaign in the US.


Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Spring 2010

The economic value of insect pollinators, mainly bees, worldwide amounts to â‚Ź153 billion per year according to INRA (Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique). This fact is very much appreciated by Syngenta which provides plant protection and seeds for more than 100 horticultural crops that require insect pollinators, of which the most important by far are bee species. Now these insect populations are threatened.

Bee populations had been in decline in the UK and Europe when Syngenta officially launched the Operation Bumblebee Pilot in 2004. This program trained UK farmers and agronomists to restore bee habitats along the margins of fields with clover rich legumes; and the result was the return of the bumblebee without compromising grower productivity and profitability. Where it has been implemented, Operation Bumblebee has seen a 6-fold increase in bumble bees, a 12-fold in butterflies and a 10-fold increase in other pollinating insects. Operation Pollinator is aiming to do something similar for the US and the rest of the world. The vital role of bees Both honeybees and native pollinators play a key role for many of North America’s horticultural crops such as almonds, blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, apples, melons, tomatoes and peppers. In fact, 30% of global food supply depends on bees for pollination. In addition, pollination (wind or insect) is an important ecosystem service which maintains the biodiversity and survival of non-crop flowering plants, particularly trees. Both the agricultural community and bee keepers continue to express concern over the drop in numbers of pollinating insects and various campaigns have aimed at raising public awareness of the problem. Syngenta has been taking action to solve this threat to biodiversity with practical land management solutions. Jeff: “Enhancing the suitability of farm landscapes for native pollinators will create a diversified strategy for achieving good crop yields in pollination-dependent crops year after year. Modern agriculture is starting to come full circle and understand the other co-benefits from making wise farm management decisions which can dramatically affect biodiversity levels, conserve natural resources (i.e. soil and water protection) as well as improve their bottom-line.” Why are bee populations declining? Jeff: “Declines of native pollinators have been linked to habitat loss – increasing agricultural intensification and urban sprawl, among other factors. While many heavily managed farm landscapes often lack the diversity and abundance of flowers that native pollinators require, recent research has shown that this trend can be reversed. Requirements for supporting a native pollinator community include diversity in foraging habitat from spring to fall with rich nectar and pollen

nutrition as well as adequate nesting habitat.

crops. Operation Pollinator is a venture which must not fail and Jeff is determined to see that does not happen.

It’s a little known fact that honeybees are not the predominant species of bee. In fact there are 20,000 species of native bees around the world and most are solitary bees, many of which are excellent pollinators. These also appear to have been in decline in recent years just like the honeybee.

Further resources www.operationpollinator.com www.operationbumblebee.com

Operation Pollinator

Whole colonies of commercially managed honeybees have declined in recent years due to disease, pathogens and a host of other stressors. These hives of commercially managed honeybees have been particularly affected by the current phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder; and in view of this, there is an urgent need to encourage native bees. These native bees can provide a hidden benefit in that they start work earlier in the day and work later into the evening than honeybees. However, it would be misleading to suggest wild pollination services could replace managed services based on current commercial agriculture production but merely this could become a integrated crop pollination strategy. Global effort from Syngenta Jeff: “The Syngenta global effort is led by independent researchers challenged to determine the most preferred and economically viable pollinator seed mixtures for specific ecoregions around the world. Their expertise in agronomy and entomology is an essential part of Operation Pollinator, which also has the backing of various partners such as the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the UK Centre of Ecology and Hydrology as well as others providing valuable technical assistance and research funding.”

Instigated by Syngenta and based on scientific Pollinator research and the experience of selected farmers, Operation Pollinator has proven to help growers successfully establish and manage pollen rich habitat in key locations around the farm – with dramatic recovery in the fortunes of pollinating insect populations.

Jeff Peters got his BSc in Biology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH), in the US, after which he went to work for Roche Biomedical Laboratories (6.5 years) and then began his career with Ciba-Geigy (Syngenta) for the past 15 years. During his tenure at Syngenta, he has worked on multiple products and projects in the Environmental Fate Laboratory Area as a study director as well as previous role as Project Manager overseeing contract field residues studies (field and laboratory aspects). His current role (Technical Manager, Sustainability) requires a working knowledge of a broad range of scientific areas of relevance to

“Once the program moves to the farm we are going to be boots on the ground, working to support the grower. We want this program to flourish and show that agriculture and biodiversity can coexist.”

Stewardship and Sustainability. The position involves interfacing




relations, marketing and business units and with external




conservation groups and trade associations). Part of this role is to design technical programs, like Operation Pollinator, to support and shape the future Syngenta’s Sustainability efforts in the US. Our goals in Sustainability are to develop and promote programs that focus on several key areas: soil conservation, soil health, water protection and bio-

Syngenta launched Phase I of Operation Pollinator in the US in the autumn of 2009 with research pilot evaluations; and Phase II will be launched at the end of 2011, when it will be implemented by growers in key states which are dependent on pollination of horticultural

diversity enhancement. We understand the future of the environment and livelihood of farmers are dependent on sustainable agriculture to address the critical challenges which lie ahead.


Contact: jeff.peters@syngenta.com

Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Spring 2010


Bouquets for bees – providing pollen and nectar for this vital pollinator

Bees need food that is plentiful, varied and nutritious, but this may be lacking around a modern farm. So how best can we help them? Syngenta’s André Fougeroux explains how their needs have now been assessed and how French melon growers are about to benefit.


Bees need nectar and pollen to develop, as do a lot of other insects. A bee colony’s food resources consist not only of 60-80 kg of nectar but of 15-40 kg of pollen, which represents their source of protein. In 2004, Syngenta started a programme to investigate the pollen resources on farms in central France, and established a network of farms consisting of three which produce grapes and eight which grow arable crops. In five of the latter, six beehives were installed at each farm and the study of pollen collection was organized with beekeepers. Analyzing the pollen baseline In the first year, the aim was to analyse the pollen which bees gathered during the cropping season from March to October. Pollen traps were installed on each hive and the pollen was collected every 15 days over a 48-hour period. Pollen grains were analyzed in a specially equipped laboratory where it was possible to identify their origin. The results showed that the amount collected is definitely linked to plant diversity. What the study also revealed was that there was a lack of pollen from June to the end of August on all the farms. This meant that the bees have to forage poorer quality sources of food.

thinking of land management to improve the food resources of pollinators. As a result of our findings, we were asked to define the best percentage of land which needed to be set aside, and a study was designed in which Syngenta collaborated with the National Institute of Agronomic Research (INRA), the East of France Association of Beekeeping Development (ADAEst), and a cooperative (Cohesis).” The focus was on 5,500 hectares in Montagne de Reims. Three apiaries, each of 40 hives, were installed and 20 hectares of set-aside land was assigned and was split into several plots and sown with different clovers, trefoil, sainfoin, melilotus and phacelia. The pollen collected by the bees was monitored from May to the end of September. At the same time, the foraging activity of bees and the plant preferences were assessed.

Nectar is a sweet substance, produced by some plants to attract pollinators such as bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Bees collect nectar from plants they visit and make it into honey. While collecting the nectar, pollinators can transfer pollen from male flowers to female flowers playing a vital role in pollination.

Pollen is a fine powder of microscopic particles from the male flower that can fertilize the female flower to produce seed. Pollen is a vital source of protein for bees and is collected by them and taken back to the hive. Bees can often be seen carrying pollen in large amounts on their legs.

For more information These studies have been reported in the literature –

A small area makes a big difference The study showed that 66% of pollen collected during the season came from the set-aside areas even though these accounted for only 0.32% of the total farm area. The investigators concluded that ideally 1% of land should be devoted to plants of this kind in order to provide all pollinators with the resources they need.

see below – and they are now being used to advise farmers on how to manage their land in order to improve food resources for bees and other pollinators. They are consistent with the results of Buzz project in UK and form part of Syngenta’s initiative to protect the diversity of bees and other pollinators – see the article by Jeff Peters earlier in this issue. References: Fougeroux A., Giffard H., Ressources alimentaires de

André: “What we observed at Beauvilliers was that the bees were lacking pollen during the critical summer months and that the pollen they collected was coming from maize, grasses, solanum and ragwort, whose pollen is far from ideal.” Setting aside land for bee food These observations were acted on in consultation with farmers and beekeepers, and it was decided to improve the bees’ food supply by using field margins and set-aside areas on which a variety of legumes were grown, namely white clover, sainfoin and trefoil. On one 200 hectare farm, the farmer agreed to set aside a total of 3,000 square metres (0.3 ha) on which such plants could grow. The pollen collection on this farm revealed a peak in July which could be attributed to the flowers on the set-aside land. André: “The main conclusions of this study were that while bees can gather lots of pollen in spring, they face a lack of pollen in summer in areas where arable crops are grown and this is linked directly to the lack of plant diversity. We also discovered that it takes only a little re-

“These two studies clearly demonstrated that simple land management can really improve the food supply for bees who need to gather enough pollen during the summer period for the winter generations.”

l’abeille en zone de grandes cultures – L’expérience des ruchers Agéris, Phytoma, 592, 45-47, 2006. T. Poissonnet, P. Boyer, J.-F. Odoux, A. Fougeroux, P. Lecompte. Jachère « entomofaune pollinisatrice » en Montagne de Reims, Une modification de l’aménagement de l’espace au profit des abeilles, Bull. Tech. Apic., 34 (1), 17-32, 2007.

Providing them with more protein allows beehives to better develop, over winter more successfully and to resist parasites such as varroa and nosema and diseases such as viruses. André Fougeroux studied at the Agronomic

André: “We now have a very good technical and scientific basis on which to implement Operation Pollinator in France. This will now focus on melon growers, encouraging them to create flowering margins in order to improve food resources for wild pollinators such as bumble bees and solitary bees, and thereby improving melon production. This project is being implemented in partnership with melon producers’ organizations.”

School in Dijon after which he went to work for the Plant Protection Service in the Ministry of Agriculture in Paris and then moved to ACTA (Association of Technical Coordination in Agriculture), which is part of the Farmers’ Union, where he was Head of the Crop Protection Service. He joined Syngenta in 1990 and in 2004 he became Stewardship Manager for biodiversity; he is based at Guyancourt, near Paris in France.


Contact: andre.fougeroux@syngenta.com

Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Spring 2010


The Bird Man of Hillesden

– encouraging birds to return to farmland habitats

Syngenta is participating in a project to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of three different schemes designed to enhance bird habitats. These are taking place on a large farm in Buckinghamshire, in the UK, and Jeremy Dyson, who manages the project, has some good news to report.


Hillesden is a 1,000 hectare farm in an intensively farmed region of the UK and located three miles south of Buckingham. It is where a remarkable investigation has been on-going for the past three years, and which will continue for another two. The object is to assess the cost-effectiveness of three different options designed to encourage birds to return to farmland habitats, thereby conserving and enhancing the biodiversity of the countryside. Syngenta is a key participant in the scheme which is an initiative of the UK Government’s Department of the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs. The project itself is being run jointly by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (part of the Natural Environment Research Council), Natural England (the UK Government’s advisor on the natural environment), and the Wildlife Farming Company (a specialist business dedicated to finding the right balance between profitable agriculture and wildlife). Syngenta’s Jeremy Dyson has the job of managing the project, which he does with technical advice from Peter Sutton. Getting to grips with the real benefits Jeremy: “With the Hillesden project, we are getting to grips with the real benefits of the different options – which are placed in awkward-to-reach and lowyielding areas and just where farmers would want them to be located – and we are using statistical analysis applied on a farm scale at Hillesden.”

“The results have been highly encouraging because bird numbers have increased for a range of species, some of whose numbers have improved dramatically.” The ultimate aim of the Hillesden venture is to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of what is known as the Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) scheme, which is intended to conserve and enhance biodiversity at farm scale. The project is focussed on three biodiversity options, each replicated five times across 60 hectare patches of the farm.

The first option is simply to follow the rules of Cross Compliance, which means having buffer strips of wild habitat next to water courses and hedgerows. The second option is from ELS and involves taking one percent of the farmland out of production to create a number of simple habitats including grass margins, a single patch of bird food, and managing the hedgerows on a two year cutting cycle. The third option is a higher level of the second option, and involves taking five per cent of land out of production to create a greater range of habitats. These habitats now include grass and flower margins and uncultivated corners of fields where wild plants can grow and provide birds with food. They also provide pollen and nectar for bees. The third option also includes areas in fields of around four square metres which are not sown as part of the crop and which are there mainly to attract skylarks.

How do you count birds and examine their habitats? Various in-field standard methods are used for the counting – that’s the easy bit. Characterising their preferred habitats, on the other hand, needs some state-of-the-art technology. In August 2007, the various wildlife habitats and their composition were mapped using LiDAR (short for Light Detection And Ranging) which is a laser-based optical remote sensing technology used in conjunction with the AISA Eagle. This is a new type of ultra sensitive scanner capable of seeing a single plant and which is mounted on one of the National Environmental Research Council’s aircraft. Together these created what is known as a digital canopy height model (DCHM) that produced a detailed map of Hillesden farm, sensitive enough even to detect power lines crossing the farm.

The impact of these different options are assessed by mapping the density of breeding territories of birds (see separate box) on several occasions from Spring to Summer each year. In 2008, ten visits were made between June and August to record the presence of fledglings as an assessment of nest productivity. In addition, breeding successes of the hole-nesting birds were recorded using nest boxes located in each of the biodiversity options. Finally, the numbers of birds visiting the wild seed patches and other un-cropped areas were counted every month between December and March. Re-aligning conventional intensive agriculture to ecosystem needs Jeremy: “The project completed a detailed bird habitat map in 2009. With DCHM it is now possible to identify these habitats remotely and link them to the nest box locations and bird census records.

“By the end of the project, we will have improved evidence regarding the effectiveness of different habitats for regenerating bird populations.” Syngenta is showing along with our partners just how biodiversity can be conserved, and even enhanced, by carefully re-aligning conventional intensive agriculture to ecosystem needs.”

Jeremy Dyson graduated from Newcastle University with a degree in soil science and from Oxford University with a D. Phil. in soil physics. He joined

A hyperspectral data, land-use map of the farm

Jealott’s Hill International Research Centre in the UK in 1991, eventually becoming a full-time Environmental Fate Assessor. In 2004, he transferred to Syngenta’s site at Basel, Switzerland, as a Senior Environmental Fate Assessor, and in 2007, he became a Stewardship and Sustainable Agriculture Manager for Europe, with a focus on water quality and land use.


Contact: jeremy.dyson@syngenta.com

Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Spring 2010


Biodiversity and birds – restoring bird populations on intensive farmland Feeding an ever-increasing human population poses challenges for us all, if it is not to be at the expense of wildlife. Syngenta’s internationally recognized expert Peter Edwards has been finding ways to restore bird numbers even in the most intensively farmed environments. During the last few decades, farmland bird populations have suffered from intensive farming in many countries and extensive agriculture in others, where there has been the loss of natural habitats like the rainforest. Syngenta was very aware of the threat, and for several years we have sponsored initiatives designed to help restore bird populations and their diversity.

Peter Edwards and feathered friend


One such project was the monitoring of birds on our own Jealott’s Hill Farm which took place from 1970 to 2000 in cooperation with the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). Recovery masked other declines Peter: “In the beginning we observed a recovery in bird populations, due to the phasing out of organochlorines, less harsh winters and recurring droughts in Africa. What we did not recognize was the more serious threat of intensive farming. Eventually, we saw tree sparrows and corn buntings completely disappear from Jealott’s Hill and skylark populations decline by 75%.” These observations were not limited to Jealott’s Hill but were of national concern and were linked largely to loss of winter stubble from increased winter cropping, and the lack of grass leys in arable rotations.

“As a result of research led by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) we now understand many of the reasons for bird declines in the UK and Europe.” Even so, the BTO Atlas, which maps the distributions of birds in the UK every 20 years, shows continued declines of the most vulnerable species.” So what is Syngenta doing? The company is participating in research with governments and NGOs aimed at protecting and restoring bird populations and biodiversity. While much research has been focussed on Europe, the company has been active elsewhere – for example, in the humid tropics of Costa Rica. Syngenta has supported Latin American banana growers (especially Dole and Del Monte) by investigating the role of forest margins as habitats connecting fragmented rainforest, thereby protecting yet more vulnerable rainforest species. Herbicides like Gramoxone® are valuable tools for weed management and non-till agriculture (see Science Matters, Spring 2009). Less well known are its benefits for farmland birds. It improves the availability of food, both by encouraging populations of invertebrates in the soil, and on the surface by increasing the

Reed Bunting

Little Bustard

Case study

Case study

Following a report from a Lincolnshire farmer, Nicholas Watts, about the decline of the Reed Bunting, Syngenta investigated the benefits of desiccating the oilseed rape crop with Reglone® and glyphosate prior to harvest. The research was done with help from the BTO. Desiccation typically leads to a 10 day delay before harvesting and this gives birds with nests in the crop longer for their chicks to fledge. The results were amazing, and the survival rate of second brood reed bunting increased by 50%.

Operation Little Tetrax in Spain is just about to start. This project will investigate how best to encourage successful breeding of the Little Bustard and expand its numbers. Like several Iberian steppe species, the Little Bustard is under pressure from intensification following irrigation schemes.

supply of seeds from the previous harvest. This was investigated recently by the RSPB as part of the Syngenta Soil and Water Protection (SOWAP) project in Europe.

Peter: “At first I was surprised when our research showed that the combination of undrilled patches and field margin did not show the expected increase in the number of chicks, but we found that was due to nest predation by mammals. However, we believe this is only a problem in small fields and where margins are close to the undrilled patches.”

Relief for the Reed Bunting in the UK

The benefits of no-till agriculture are nowhere better seen than in Brazil where it is the norm for cereals, maize and soy. Burrowing Owls, which have nest holes in the middle of these large arable fields, have clearly benefited. Without no-till, this species would be restricted to the uncultivated field margins and any remaining grassland.

Encouraging the Little Bustard in Spain

Peter also hopes to obtain support from the Technology Strategy Board’s support for a web-based knowledge tool to help farmers and bird biodiversity in their region.

Other Syngenta funded biodiversity projects are now looking into the response to different proportions of managed off-crop habitat.

Recent environmental schemes supported by Syngenta include the SAFFIE and BUZZ projects, both applying the same principles and focusing on different populations: SAFFIE on birds, and BUZZ on pollinators (see Operation Pollinator articles on pages 04 and 05). SAFFIE, part funded by Syngenta, looked at the best ways to manage sown field margins and improve the crop structure of winter wheat to support breeding Skylarks. Field margins were best managed for biodiversity by light harrowing and selective herbicide use with Fusilade®. By having two 4 x4 metre undrilled patches per hectare there can be a dramatic increase in the numbers of Skylarks nesting twice in one season and fledging more chicks each year.

Peter Edwards did an MIBiol in ecology and animal behaviour at Sir John Cass College, London while working as an ecologist for ICI, now Syngenta. He has worked at Jealott’s Hill International Research Centre in Product Safety for 40 years, mainly evaluating the safety of new pesticides to wildlife. In 1997 he was awarded an MBE for his ‘contribution to bird ecology and conservation in agriculture’.


Contact: peter.edwards@syngenta.com

Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Spring 2010


Why use predators, when you can spray? This question is something that growers regularly ask Melvyn Fidgett from Syngenta Bioline when he suggests using beneficial insects and mites to control a pest problem. The response is easy: “It is part of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and good for biodiversity.� Here Melvyn discusses the history of beneficial insect use and how he is working with colleagues at Syngenta Bioline to develop new breeding and delivery systems to help bring Integrated Pest Management to life!

An Aphelinus parasitic wasp depositing its larva in an aphid


The use of beneficial insects and mites for pest control is not a new concept but in recent years it has become increasingly popular with flower, fruit and vegetable growers across the world. The first ever recorded commercial sales were of the parasitic wasp (Encarsia formosa) made by a Mr Speyer from Waltham Cross in the 1920’s; he sold wasps for whitefly control in the UK and for export. However, the advent of DDT soon resulted in lost interest in using biological controls of insect pests for the next 40 years.

Melvyn: “I am often asked if growers will stop using insects and revert back to using chemicals if a new effective insecticide is introduced. My answer is always no, but they will probably use the insects and new pesticides together in a program.” So what has changed compared to the days of Mr. Speyer? When the uptake in biological controls was rekindled in the 1970s and 80s, it was due mainly as an alternative approach, as many insecticides had developed problematic levels of resistance. Even though growers had a real need for new insect control solutions the use of beneficial insects was still very slow to develop, and remained in the niche area of glasshouse crops in the UK and the Netherlands.

could only afford to introduce low numbers of 1-2 per m² which is barely optimal for whitefly control. In more recent years, predatory mites have been developed for the control of whitefly, one example being Amblyseuis swirskii. This is introduced into the crop in release sachets, and within weeks you can find many thousands of predators on each plant. Amblyseuis swirskii had been known to be an efficient predator for more than three decades. The real challenge was to develop breeding and delivery systems that result in thousands of mites on a plant and high levels of pest control. Predatory mites are produced in climate controlled rooms, in a rearing substrate. This may be such as vermiculite, buckwheat or bran. The mite is fed on a prey of a pest mite which are often found in stored food products.

In the last five years this “Integrated Approach” of combining beneficial insects/mites with chemical treatments has become established in more cropping systems in many more countries. Insecticide resistance, residue issues, supermarket pressure, worker safety are some of the main reasons why growers have been converting to the Integrated Approach, and in most cases this has been more effective that what they had before. These new technical and consumer demands on growers have resulted in them wanting to change, but it can also only be feasible if the bio-companies respond with cost efficient products.

“Growers will not pay more or accept incomplete control because they still have to achieve yield and quality targets which meet retailer requirements.” Early converts to biological control used parasitic wasps such as Encarsia formosa for whitefly control. Encarsia needs to spend the majority of its life cycle inside its host the whitefly, and needs the whitefly to complete its development. It is therefore never going to completely kill off its host’s population, or provide one hundred percent efficient control. Encarsia is produced on tobacco plants, which are infested with whitefly. This production system on plants is relatively inefficient plus a labour and energy intensive process, and therefore a grower

Syngenta Bioline Syngenta Bioline is dedicated to the production of premium quality bumblebees, beneficial insects and mites for use in vegetables, fruit, flowers and ornamental crops. They deliver innovative solutions to growers through Integrated Crop Management techniques. Syngenta Bioline is active throughout Europe, North America and Japan. beneficial insects and mites. These compatible pesticides can be broad spectrum or specific against a pest we develop where and when they fit and how they are used. Sometimes a short persistence broad spectrum insecticide is more useful than a specific “soft” chemical.

“It is my view that the Integration of Biological and Chemical control is the future of pest control for many high value crops.”

Predatory mites are introduced into the crop in release sachets

Melvyn: “Selecting which prey for the predator to eat can take many years to find. Then developing a production system for the predator is the next step. Patents are now being granted to recognize the innovation and development work that is required to breed these efficient predators.”

It is not an either/or, but a combination. The next development of the ICM concept will be increased use of microbial pesticides particularly for disease control. In a integrated program microbial fungicides are often used when a crop is fruiting and they can help in reducing residue levels in the harvested crop. Further resources More information is available at www.syngenta-bioline.co.uk

In crops such as cut flowers the use of “Bugline” a continuous line of release sachets enables grower to effectively control thrips, in an Integrated Program. Syngenta Bioline was granted a patent on the Bugline development. Integrated Crop Management programs The next stage of the development is how it can be used effectively on different crops. The Integrated Crop Management (ICM) program will often mean that the growers change to using beneficial insects and mites, they also often need to use different insecticides and fungicides which are compatible with the use of

Melvyn Fidgett joined Ciba-Geigy Agrochemicals as a Marketing Trainee in 1977 having studied General Agriculture at Harper Adams Agricultural College. He worked in sales and marketing and was Marketing Manager for the UK. He transferred to Ciba-Bunting as MD in 1995 (now Syngenta Bioline).


Contact: melvyn.fidgett@syngenta.com

Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Spring 2010


Things are hotting up in the world of peppers Biodiversity provides opportunities for improving crops by introducing better cultivars. Syngenta’s pepper breeding team of Rik van Wijk, Jeanlouis Nicolet and Moshe Bar* are dedicated to doing just that.


Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Spring 2010

The capsicums are among the world’s most widely cultivated food plants and the best known is C. annuum. It comes as red, green, and orange peppers popular as vegetables and salads in Europe and the US, and as chili peppers whose dried powder is a popular spice particularly in Asia, Central America, and South America where it originated from. The range and diversity of C. annuum types is large and they go by many names, of which the best known peppers are Bell, Cayenne, Jalapeno and Pimiento. In fact there are 30 species of capsicum, of which five are domesticated: C. annuum, C. chinense, C. frutescens, C. baccatum, and C. pubescens.

C. chinense is commonly grown around the Caribbean and in the tropics, and provides the world’s hottest cultivars including the taste searing Habanero. C. frutescens is well known from its tabasco cultivars, while those of C. baccatum provide the colorful spices known as aji in South America. However, C. pubescens, the least common of the domesticated capsicums, is in a class of its own in terms of its genes. It is genetically isolated from the others as a consequence of severe inter-specific incompatibility. The other peppers are in a good shape gene-wise and they can make inter-specific crosses.

introduced in Syngenta products. The aim was to provide protection against the pepper mild mottle virus, tomato spotted wilt virus, potyvirus, bacterial spot and the fungal disease antracnose. These discoveries were made by teams working at Syngenta, and at universities and public institutes, some supported by industry consortia. And the search continues still, now using exotic landraces to open new kinds of innovative traits like insect resistance. Indeed, the Syngenta pepper team is today considered the pioneering group by the vegetables industry and their work is highly regarded.

Like all crops, peppers are threatened by diseases, insects and drought. The major challenge for the pepper breeding community is to develop cultivars able to cope with or resist such stresses. Useful traits with the right characteristics for this already exist in the various domesticated and wild (aka landrace) capsicums.

The old cultivars have also been used to improve the fruit quality of peppers. For instance, Morron, an open pollinated variety grown in the Ebro valley in Spain for the canning industry has been improved in terms of firmness, smoothness and thicker walls. The result is Roxy and its derived F1.

Transference of useful traits Enrichment of the breeding germplasm means transferring useful traits from the wild gene pool, although it is not always easy to overcome the crossing barriers. In such cases in-vitro culture techniques, such as embryo rescue or the use of bridge crosses, are needed. Following an inter-specific cross with C. annuum, major resistant genes have been

“A successful breeding program directed at improving agriculture productivity, quality and sustainability is highly dependent on secured access to genetic resources.”

A point of worry today is the maintenance and access to the biodiversity of gene banks. Some national gene banks limit this access while others demand the rights to any discovery done on their accessions. Preserving biodiversity One of our missions in Syngenta is to preserve the biodiversity in a given crop. Molecular marker technologies today provide reliable genotyping data invaluable for germplasm characterization and management, whether it be to assess the genetic diversity within gene banks or to manage the breeding germplasm we already have. We seek parental lines for crossings followed by marker assisted selection. Increased knowledge of genetic groups or improved structure of the germplasm will help breeders to utilize their germplasm more efficiently through exploitation of complementary lines, the object being to maximize the outcomes of a hybrid breeding program.


Rik van Wijk is Leader in the Molecular Breeding

of Pepper, Jeanlouis Nicolet is a pepper breeding

specialist, and Moshe Bar is Leader in Pepper Global Development.

with resistance to the pepper mild mottle virus. A certain level of the linkage drag is present even after two decades of breeding.

Fishing in the wild gene pool There are considerable genetic variations in landraces and wild relatives of the domesticated peppers. Although some traits already transferred to our breeding germplasm are basic traits in today’s hybrids, we have only just started unlocking this variation. The discovery and transfer of useful traits is a lengthy process requiring years of classic breeding. Useful traits rarely come without some negative effect on the overall performance (so called linkage drag). A well known example of this is the reduced growth and fertility associated

There is a major challenge ahead to discover new traits. Molecular marker technologies and approaches will aid in this. Genetic mapping allows identification of qualitative trail loci (QTL) or genes underlying traits of interest. Within the Syngenta pepper breeding group there are new technologies and increasing activities aimed at the more complex traits of polygenic disease resistances, yield, fruit quality, and nutrition, as well as biotic stresses like drought tolerance or other useful biological traits. Valuable genetic variation for such traits is eroded within the breeding germplasm during domestication, following years of professional breeding, and need to be ‘fished’ out of the ‘reservoir’ from exotic materials to “re-energize” the biodiversity of the crop.

Rik van Wijk (pictured centre) grew up between plants and animals on a farm in south-west of the Netherlands. He studied plant breeding at the Wageningen University (WU) graduating in 1995. He then went to work for the biotechnology company Keygene (The Netherlands) as marker assisted breeding project manager. In 2002 he moved to the Institute for Pig Genetics, while physically based at the Animal Genetics and Breeding department of WU where he did his PhD on molecular genetics of meat quality. This followed by a year postdoctoral research at the same department. Subsequently he moved back to his most loved ‘plant world’ when joining Syngenta in 2006, based in France where he is Molecular Breeding Lead of pepper. Rik would also like to acknowledge input from colleagues Jeanlouis Nicolet (left) and Moshe Bar (right) in writing the article – they are pictured with him.


Contact: rik.van_wijk@syngenta.com

Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Spring 2010


Stewardship and biodiversity – central to feeding the world in a sustainable way Biodiversity is central to the stability of the Earth’s environment, it is also central to Syngenta’s imperative of producing more from less. Richard Brown explains that as an environmental steward, Syngenta contributes directly to the identification and protection of High Conservation Value Forest, such as those areas in Indonesia where the orang-utan is under threat, and in areas of intensive production our product stewardship programmes help to protect the health of workers, consumers and the environment.

One of the things that I am often asked is, “What is Stewardship?” In a number of languages people struggle to find the equivalent to this slightly old-fashioned English word. A steward is someone who manages something for someone else and the word has its roots in the Biblical parable of the good steward. More recent definitions from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) include the concepts of “responsible” and “ethical” behaviour.

The orang-utan has become a symbol of conservation in the forests of Indonesia


Connections give ecosystems their stability Biodiversity is not only the assemblages of plants, animals and microbes in an environment but also the functioning of the webs and feedback loops that connect them and give ecosystems their stability. It is this stability of the Earth’s environment that has allowed life to evolve and prosper here. The biodiversity of the Earth is intimately connected its stability, so paying close attention to biodiversity is responsible and ethical as well as an essential part of taking care to manage our natural resources for future generations.

“Stewardship of our natural resources is an imperative for the human race and Syngenta’s imperative of producing more from less is central to meeting the challenge.” Biodiversity is at the heart of our strategic imperative of growing more from less. Much of the land that is well suited to agriculture has already been converted. Our options are either to increase productivity of this land or to take more species-rich natural habitat into cultivation. The responsible and ethical approach towards protecting biodiversity would appear to be intensification on existing land and the protection of natural habitat. In addition to this, the land that is in cultivation needs to be managed sustainbly and a main focus of Syngenta’s Product Stewardship is to ensure that the products are used without a risk to the health of operators, consumers or the environment. By responsibly and ethically supporting intensification, Syngenta does much to enable growing more from less but what do we do for the natural habitats? Helping farmers to protect natural environment In Brazil, 80% of the forest that is converted goes into low-productivity pasture. This is the opposite of producing more from less. In the highly productive Cerrados area, the soils are very old and over vast amounts of time they have been leached by rainfall and become acid. After conversion these acid soils were limed and nutrients added and so the region is now highly productive but due to the change in the soil conditions, if abandoned it would no longer be suitable for the native plants.

In order to help farmers increase the percentage of their holdings that contain unconverted land, Syngenta has been working with an environmental NGO, The Nature Conservancy or TNC, to identify blocks of natural forest that they can buy and protect. Brazilian farms that contain less than a certain amount of unconverted land receive a lower payment for their produce and so there is a strong incentive for these farmers to protect the natural habitat that they have purchased. In addition, the remote sensing of these areas by TNC identifies the areas of High Conservation Value Forest that can be protected and by arranging for the protection of neighbouring blocks the total area of the conserved forest is greater and its conservation value is enhanced even further.

The orang-utan, helping maintain biodiversity through seed dispersal Primarily frugivorous, orang-utans have an important role as seed dispersers. They selectively choose ripe fruit whose seeds are adapted to withstand passage through their bodies. Over 400 food types have been documented as part of the orang-utans’ diet. Once the seeds have passed through the gut, they are excreted and find themselves in their own compost pile, which helps them to become established.

Optimizing palm plantations to protect valuable forest In Asia, there is much debate and concern over the destruction of High Conservation Value Forest in Indonesia as exemplified by the many organizations committed to protecting the orang-utan which has become the symbol of the Indonesian forest. For simplicity, the finger of blame has been pointed at Oil Palm plantations, though the underlying politics are a little more complex. However it is true that forest is being converted into plantation. Much Oil Palm production is not yet optimized and through the application of plant sciences and the use of Syngenta’s crop protection products, increases in yield and profitability can be increased from existing plantations.

As well as acting as seed dispersers, orang-utans also help to open up the forest canopy. This allows light to reach the forest floor, which helps the forest to regenerate naturally. They are a vital cog in the workings of the rainforest ecosystem.

“By increasing yields from existing plantations we can minimize the need for new plantations, helping to protect native wildlife such as the orang-utan.” However, ironically, there is interest in organic palm oil which yields up to 30% less than the conventionally produced crop which would increase the pressure on natural habitats by producing less from more.

Richard Brown was born and raised on a small farm in Norfolk in the UK and graduated from Newcastle University with a degree and PhD in Agricultural Biology and Ecology. After working at Imperial College London, he joined the Jealott’s Hill Ecology team in 1984 and has held various roles risk assessment,

Further resources

registration and biology, eventually becoming Head

More information on Syngenta’s stewardship

of Lab R&D in the USA. After three years running a

activities can be found at www.syngenta.com/

biotech start-up in California, he re-joined Syngenta


as Global Head of Product Stewardship in 2003.

or in our 2009 Annual Report available at http://annualreport.syngenta.com


Contact: richard_anthony.brown@syngenta.com

Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Spring 2010


Biodiversity is as important below ground as above Biodiversity does not only mean the wildlife we can see, it also includes the world we cannot see and which lives in the soil. This is vital to our food supply and, as Alain Gaume explains, it is a remarkably complex ecosystem.


Although we know a lot about plant and animal biodiversity, much less is known about microbial diversity and in particular about that of soil microbes. Indeed the maintenance of viable and diverse populations of these species is essential to sustainable agriculture. They are part of a system whose complexity and sensitivity varies according to several factors: agricultural practices such as cropping and tillage; agrochemicals; plant species; and, most surprisingly, to microbemicrobe inter-relationships.

The remarkable world beneath our feet The rhizosphere is the zone of soil around roots. Microbial numbers in the rhizosphere are much higher than in the bulk soil and this is due to the roots themselves. What goes on in the rhizosphere is astonishing. Indeed, the microbes which dwell in this micro environment interact in ways that are equivalent to them talking to one another. The rhizosphere is influenced by root activity, and the interactions between roots and their immediate surroundings are some of the most complex experienced by land plants.

“We need to discover as much as possible about these microbial communities and their interactions with plants and with plant protection chemicals.” This area of knowledge is expanding as new research tools become available. There are many natural factors which affect the productivity of the land, such as choice of crop species and cultivars, and soil characteristics like pH, nutrients availability and water content. In addition to all these factors, two others are of particular importance to Syngenta, namely herbicides and pesticides. How do pesticides affect soil microorganisms and their activities? Pesticides in soil undergo chemical degradation, transport, and adsorption and these depend on the particular pesticide and environmental factors such as the type of soil. The literature regarding the impact of these chemicals on microorganisms is inconsistent. In part this confusion arises because the research does not reflect the chemicals and dosage rates which farmers use. Furthermore, the responses of microbes to these chemicals have traditionally been focused at the process level, measuring responses in terms of microbial numbers, respiration rates, and enzyme activity. Little attention has been paid to responses of the overall microbial community, or to the organisms themselves, and different pesticide applications affect them in different ways.

Roots secrete compounds known as exudates and these can stimulate or inhibit microbial populations and govern their activities. Root exudates consists of water-soluble ones, such as sugars, amino acids, organic acids, enzymes, hormones, and vitamins, and insoluble ones, like cell walls, root debris, and the gelatinous glycoprotein mucilage. Carbon dioxide is also released by roots as they respire. The carbon provided by these different sources is used by many species of bacteria and fungi to grow. In return, microbes may assist the plant by controlling nutrient turnover, and may Evidence exists that pesticides reduce microbial diversity, but increases functional diversity within microbial communities. Some microbial groups even use pesticide molecules as energy sources. However, pesticides can negatively influence other groups, directly by delaying or inhibiting growth, or indirectly through competition mechanisms. Microbes which respond positively can then out-compete others. In the longer term, it appears that initial effects of pesticides are reversible and relationships return to normal. The same is true for biopesticides. Investigating the impact Syngenta recently joined a European research consortium to look at the impact of fungicides on beneficial rootcolonizing microorganisms such as arbuscular mycorhizal fungi and nitrogenfixing bacteria. Strategic partnerships have been set up and these serve two purposes. One is to examine the delicate relationships between plants, beneficial microbes and chemicals. The other is to complement the progress made by Syngenta Seed Care by introducing seed treatments that are safe and efficient systems of pest control. In seed treatments, the chemical is applied in a localized manner and this may affect the rhizosphere microbial diversity, initially to a greater extent than other ways of delivering the pest-control agents. Existing practices include the successful implementation and use of growth-promoting rhizobacteria along with seeds.

even produce compounds which promote plant growth. However, the stimulation of microbial growth can harm plants if pathogens are favored amongst the microbial community. Root exudates are also used by plants as signals to initiate a dialogue with soil microbes. They facilitate sym- biotic interactions, as with the rhizobia which are soil bacteria that fix nitrogen, an essential nutrient for healthy plants. Because root exudates have the potential to influence microbes and vice versa it suggests that there may have been co-evolution between plants and microbes.

sustainable crop production with a package of solutions designed to enhance plant growth, support beneficial microbes, and deliver the metabolites required to establish an optimal rhizosphere environment. Revealing the rhizosphere To encourage a better understanding of the rhizosphere (see separate panel) within Syngenta, a live event that linked both Jealott’s Hill in the UK and SBI in the USA was held at the end of 2009. Each site hosted external speakers who gave presentations on key areas in this exciting area of work. After a full day of presentations, the external guests joined our scientists for workshop sessions to allow further exploration of the subject area. The entire session was videotaped and is available for internal viewing. The event also led to the creation of a new Rhizosphere Network.

Alain Gaume studied agronomy at the ETH in Zürich and did his PhD on rhizosphere mechanisms for nutrient (phosphorus) uptake and use in maize. After postdoctoral studies followed by a senior scientist position at the ETH, he went to Agroscope, the research unit of the Swiss Federal Office for Agriculture. He joined Syngenta last year and is now Head of Seed Care Research.

It is envisaged that seed treatment technology will undergo further developments and have a bigger impact on


Contact: alain.gaume@syngenta.com

Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Spring 2010


What’s wrong with weeds? Weeds compete with food crops for soil nutrients, water and light, so that as far as the farmer is concerned, the fewer the better. However, weeds are a natural part of the environment, providing food for birds and insects. Peter Sutton, from Ecological Sciences at Jealott’s Hill, explains the dilemma.


Controlling weeds boosts crop yields – of that there is no doubt. Indeed, in crops like maize, it can be difficult to find the crop itself in areas not treated with herbicides. These are an essential part of modern agriculture, but today’s approach is to integrate their use better, so that while they allow growers to enjoy their benefits, at the same time their effects on biodiversity are minimised and mitigated. As a major herbicide manufacturer, Syngenta is seeking ways to balance these two requirements and that’s what Peter Sutton is trying to achieve. Peter’s experience in this area of crop protection is extensive. He has worked in Africa, with the UK business, with the global business, and is now at Jealott’s Hill International Research Centre, where he is involved in both weed and ecological sciences. His experience includes working in the field with the world’s major crops, namely wheat, maize, rice, potatoes, soya, cotton, plantations, and fruits, and with the major herbicides, in particular Fusilade®, Callisto®, Reglone®, Axial®, Dual® and Touchdown®. How does Peter view his remit to boost crop yields whilst protecting other species? Peter: “For the most part, arable fields and commercial farms in Europe are not locations for rare or endangered plant species. Consequently herbicides do not threaten either individuals or populations of protected species, and farmers have used selective herbicides to remove weeds for decades.” Maize is a key crop in Europe which provides food, fodder, and biofuel. However, it is very sensitive to competition from weeds and, if the crop is to flourish, there must be fewer than ten weeds per square metre – and ideally only one weed per square metre. A level as low as the latter is considered acceptable to both farmers and environmentalists ensuring optimum yield and biodiversity.

Maintenance of functional diversity A major debate in Europe concerns the introduction of glyphosate-tolerant crops. Work on the effect which glyphosate has on the abundance of invertebrates indicates that functional diversity is maintained, even though the abundance of some species may be reduced. The use of non-selective glyphosate together with the newer herbicides such as mesotrione and nicosulfuron, favours minimum tillage and even no-till agriculture – see Science Matters Spring 2009 – and with it comes environmental benefits in terms of less deterioration of farm equipment, reduced energy consumption, with less water run-off and less soil erosion. Peter: “Changes in weed types in maize fields that may result from glyphosate use are likely to be small compared with other changes occurring in agriculture, and in any case views about how to maximise production while maintaining or increasing biodiversity are changing. Maintenance of biodiversity may be better achieved by managing offcrop areas.”

“Growers, biodiversity, and the environment can all benefit given appropriate weed management.” Re-evaluation of the Farm Scale Evaluation (FSE) data suggests growers, biodiversity, and the environment can all benefit given appropriate weed management. Glyphosate can make a valuable addition to integrated weed management. Trials subsequent to the FSE found that band spraying and its timing for sugar beet crops lead to enhanced weed and insect biomass without compromising yield, and such crops could be managed for biodiversity as well as offering food and shelter to farmland birds and other wildlife. The same would be true for other crops, and herbicide-tolerance technology could be a powerful way of developing more sustainable farming systems with little impact on biodiversity.

and at 4 l/ha the yield increased further to 11.7 t/ha. A maximum crop yield of 12.5 t/ha was achieved by using two 3 l/ha applications of glyphosate, and the commercial standard (acetochlor/isoxaflutole at 1,755 g/ha) yielded 11.0 t/ha.

“Essentially one can have 12 tonnes of crop or 6 tonnes of crop and 6 tonnes of weeds – but not both.”

Peter explaining the effects of weeds on a crop

Taking an integrated approach Syngenta’s fundamental research into weed management strongly supports the use of herbicides in rotation, or mixed herbicide chemistry. An integrated approach allows the growers more options, not only in terms of weeds, climate, soil, and seasons, but also in terms of a strategy to avoid the development of weed resistance. Peter: “In any agricultural system it is the combination of crop choice or rotation, and the degree and timing of weed management, which determines the surviving weed numbers, and the longterm effects on the weed seed bank. By fine-tuning the intensity and timing of herbicides, including glyphosate, growers can potentially manage crops to their own and the environment’s benefit.”

Peter Sutton graduated from Cambridge University with a degree in Natural Sciences (Botany, Zoology, and Biochemistry). He came to Syngenta Crop

Weeds can devastate a crop of maize such as that shown here

The effects weeds can have on crop yields The effects of weeds on glyphosate tolerant maize was demonstrated in 2008 at the Czech University of Life Sciences. When no attempt was made to control weeds then the yield was 5.7 t/ha. With just one application of glyphosate at 2 l/ ha the yield almost doubled to 10.0 t/ha,

Protection via ICI and Zeneca. Peter first worked on field trials at Jealott’s Hill, then progressed to becoming an agronomist, a weed scientist, a development manager, and he is now an ecological risk assessor and project manager for Syngenta’s Ecological Sciences.


Contact: peter.sutton@syngenta.com

Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Spring 2010


Biodiversity not only applies to the big creatures but also to the crops that feed the world


An external perspective

Of pandas and potatoes The Global Crop Diversity Trust ensures the conservation and availability of crop diversity for food security worldwide. Their Executive Director Cary Fowler explains why it matters that the international community takes action to conserve diversity of crops. It was an inauspicious beginning. Days after the international community failed to establish legally binding measures to halt climate change, the UN launched the International Year of Biodiversity. Scientists predict climate change will directly imperil one-fourth of the Earth’s species. In the coming months, you can expect to hear about charismatic mega-fauna – whales, tigers, gorillas, pandas, etc. – as well as the diversity of species found in the oceans and tropical forests. You’ll be exposed to the organizations devoted to saving them. Most of all you will be told about the threat of extinction. The issue of “endangered species” has dominated the biodiversity narrative since the 1980s when the term entered into common usage. To many people, “biodiversity” is almost synonymous with the word “nature”, and “nature” brings to mind steamy forests and the big creatures that dwell there. Fair enough. But biodiversity is much more than that, for it encompasses not only the diversity of species, but also the diversity within species. It includes not only wild species and their diversity, but domesticated species and their diversity.

“It is the diversity within species that keeps species going. This is the diversity upon which natural selection works, the diversity that fuels adaptation and evolution for everything from pandas to potatoes.”

Unless we appreciate the critical role that intra-species biodiversity plays in the survival of species, we risk seeing extinction as a numbers’ game, as something that happens when the last individual dies. Extinction, however, is a process, not an event. It effectively occurs not when the last individual dies, but when the species loses the ability to adapt successfully. After that, it’s just a waiting game for the last individual to succumb. No species gets a free pass. In the game of life, less diversity means fewer options for change. Wild or domesticated, polar bear or pea, adaptation is the requirement for survival. People and plants Whether we consciously realize it or not, the biodiversity with which we are most familiar, and the biodiversity with which we have most intimate historical, cultural and biological connections, is that associated with food plants. We all know that apples come in red, yellow and green models, and we know some of the varietal names. But how many people realize that there are thousands of distinct varieties of potatoes, tens of thousands of varieties of beans, hundreds of thousands of types of wheat, and even more of rice? This diversity, this cornucopia of genes, has arisen and persisted in large part because of the ancient and ongoing tie between peoples and plants. Farmers and more formally trained plant breeders use the diversity found in wheat and other crops to improve the yields, disease and pest resistance of the varieties in use today. The process of varietal improvement is continuous. The bread you eat today is undoubtedly made from different varieties of wheat than 25 years ago, as new varieties have been

Diversity in beans Beans, the “meat of the poor”, contribute essential protein to millions in Latin America and Africa. Beans are nutritionally complementary to carbohydrate-rich grains such as maize, and the combination of beans with such staple crops provides the foundation for a diet providing all of the essential amino acids needed for a complete vegetable protein. Beans are also rich in essential micronutrients such as iron and folic acid (one of the B vitamins especially important for pregnant women). Beans display an impressive array of colours, textures and tastes, and plants differ from bushes to climbing vines, annual or perennial. Beans can be grown from sea level to over 3,000 metres in a huge variety of climates and soils, and are often intercropped with other food plants in traditional farming systems.

Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Spring 2010


continuously developed for higher yield and to stay one step ahead of everevolving pests and diseases.

“Nevertheless, when we think about biodiversity, we rarely think about food.” Syngenta’s fundamental research into the word “biodiversity” doesn’t appear in Culinary Artistry, an interesting book I recently read about food and cooking traditions. Yet the book, of course, is all about the interplay between cultural and biological diversity.

Colourful carrots Carrots belong to the Apiacea family together with other cultivated plants such as parsley, dill and fennel. There are two main groups of cultivated carrots, called the “eastern” and the “western” carrots. The “eastern” type is the oldest cultivated form and originated as a crop in central Asia more than a thousand years ago. The roots of the eastern type are branched, with strong yellow or purple colouring caused by high anthocyanin content. Centuries later the carrot was imported to Europe from Arabian countries. The “western” carrot was developed by farmers in the Netherlands in the 17th century. It had a less fibrous texture than its predecessor, an unbranched root and was characteristic for its carotene rich orange flesh. It is the “western” type that dominates world production today and a range of varieties exist adapted to different soil conditions climates and growing season. The root also comes in a wide variety of shapes, tastes and texture and colours ranging from whitish to dark purple.

Seed banks with their vast collections of crop diversity constitute a cultural corridor, a bridge through time that will help enable crops to adapt to climate change. The biodiversity that seed banks protect may not inspire our empathy as easily as pandas, but its loss would be catastrophic for many, many species. Let’s Party The International Year of Biodiversity is now well underway. Charismatic biodiversity will be celebrated. Less charismatic biodiversity will be eaten. Beginnings are often messy.

Spicy Thai dishes with chillies and peanuts employ ingredients of American origin. Italy’s pasta and China’s noodles depend on wheat that was first domesticated in the Near East. Nordics love their (Andean) potatoes. And quintessentially Brazilian ingredients such as black beans, garlic, lime, rice, scallions, are historical imports with the possible exception of the beans. Spices have travelled far and wide too, fuelling an international trade that stretches back millennia. Today, cumin, from the upper Nile area, figures prominently in cuisines from subSaharan Africa, the Caribbean, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Middle East, Morocco, Spain, Thailand, and Tunisia. The number of crops we use for food is impressive enough, but the diversity within those crops is particularly notable for both agronomic and cultural reasons. Like other biodiversity, however, it is endangered.

“Perhaps it matters little whether the international community chooses to celebrate crop diversity, but it profoundly matters that the international community takes action to conserve it.” In October, in Japan, the Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity will convene for the tenth time. That occasion should commence not with gloom and doom and revelations of more extinctions. It should begin instead with a stunning announcement that steps have been taken to ensure the survival of the biodiversity upon which we most directly depend. Technically and financially such an announcement is feasible now. This year. For any crop. For all crops. Imagine such a beginning.

Despite the breeding of carrots for uniformity there are collections of more than 1,000 different accessions of carrot, both in the United States of America and the Russian Federation. More than 50 other genebanks around the world hold a smaller number of samples.


What is it that makes one cuisine distinct from another? Which foods and spices are strongly associated with a particular cuisine? What makes Thai food “Thai” as opposed to Italian? It doesn’t necessarily have to do with where the crops were originally domesticated. So many key ingredients are immigrants!

species, the maize and sorghum varieties grown by subsistence farmers in Africa cannot and will not easily relocate. And staying where they are is hardly an adaptive strategy that inspires confidence. Even if such crop varieties were to survive, what would become of the farmers hit with devastating drops in production due to climate change?

Plants and animals are not waiting for the next IPCC report to document global warming. Hundreds of scientific articles document the movement of wild species in response to climate change. But the disturbing fact is that many aren’t moving fast enough, and can’t. Others simply have no corridors of escape. All are potential climate change road kill. Agricultural crops face a similar dilemma. As with pandas and many other wild

Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Spring 2010

Better yet, for a year that started so poorly for biodiversity, imagine such an end.

The Global Crop Diversity Trust

Cary Fowler is Executive Director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust. Prior to joining the Trust as its Executive Director, Dr Cary Fowler was Professor and Director of Research in the Department for International Environment & Development Studies at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. He was also a Senior Advisor to the Director General of Biodiversity International. In this latter role, he represented the Consultative Group on International

The fight against hunger is one of the greatest challenges facing the world over the coming decades. Crop diversity is fundamental to defeating hunger and achieving food security. Important collections of crop diversity face urgent and chronic funding shortages. These shortages can lead to loss of diversity, the very building blocks on which adaptive and productive agriculture depends. The sole global response to this threat is the Global Crop Diversity Trust. Their mission is to ensure the conservation and availability of crop diversity for food security worldwide.

Agricultural Research (CGIAR) in negotiations on the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. Cary’s career in the conservation and use of crop diversity spans 30 years. He was Program Director for the National Sharecroppers Fund / Rural Advancement Fund, a US-based NGO engaged in plant genetic resources education and advocacy. In 1985 he was awarded the Right Livelihood Award (the “Alternative Nobel Prize”) in a ceremony in the Swedish Parliament. In the 1990s, he headed the International Conference and Programme on Plant

In line with the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources and the Global Plan of Action for the Conservation and Sustainable Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, their goal is to advance an efficient and sustainable global system of ex situ conservation by promoting the rescue, understanding, use and longterm conservation of valuable plant genetic resources.

Genetic Resources at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), which produced the UN’s first ever global assessment of the state of the world’s plant genetic resources. He drafted and supervised negotiations of FAO’s Global Plan of Action for Plant Genetic Resources, adopted by 150 countries in 1996. That same year he served as Special Assistant to the Secretary General of the World Food Summit. During the negotiation process of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources, Cary chaired a series of off-the-record

The Trust’s response is to raise an endowment, the interest from which is enough to guarantee the effective conservation – and vitally, the ready availability to those who wish to use it – of the biological basis of all agriculture. The endowment will ensure that the conservation of this most critical resource is placed forever on a firm foundation.

The Trust is a unique public- private partnership raising funds from individual, corporate and government donors to establish an endowment fund that will provide complete and continuous funding for key crop collections, in eternity. Providing the backdrop to the Trust’s action is an international consensus on the importance of this issue. Nations of the world have adopted a number of international agreements recognizing the need to conserve crop diversity and confirming the important role of collections maintained in genebanks. Among these are the Convention on Biological Diversity (1992), the Global Plan of Action for the Conservation and Sustainable Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (1996); and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (2001).

Achieving the Millennium Develop- ment Goals, the priorities for development agreed by all members of the United Nations, will require crop diversity to be effectively conserved, and the Trust directly contributes to three of the goals: to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger (Goal 1), to ensure environmental sustainability (Goal 7) and to develop a global partnership for development (Goal 8).

retreats with key delegates, sponsored by the Nordic countries. He is a past-member of the National Plant Genetic Resources Board of the U.S. and the Board of Trustees of the International Maize and Wheat

Saving seed at Svalbard

Improvement Center in Mexico, and is currently Chair

The Global Crop Diversity Trust is working with the

of the International Advisory Council of the Svalbard

Consultative Group on International Agricultural

Global Seed Vault. He holds a position as Associate

Research (CGIAR) and seed banks from around the

Curator at the Memphis City Family of Museums.

world to assist in preparing and shipping seeds to the Seed Vault in Svalbard.

Cary has been profiled by CBS 60 Minutes and the New Yorker, is the author of several books on the

The formal opening of the Svalbard Global Seed

subject of plant genetic resources and more than

Vault deep inside an Arctic mountain (see picture)

75 articles on the topic in agriculture, law, and

in February 2008 marked a turning point toward

development journals. Cary earned his Ph.D. at

ensuring the crops that sustain us will not be lost

the University of Uppsala (Sweden), and in 2008

and aims to save more than a million different

received an honorary doctorate from Simon Fraser

varieties of crops.

University (Canada). Further resources This article was originally produced as part of a newsletter series prepared by Cary Fowler for the Global Crop Diversity Trust. To subscribe to future newsletters visit http://www.croptrust.org/main/topics.php


Contact: info@croptrust.org

or send an email to topics@croptrust.org. Further details on the Trust can be found at www.croptrust.org.

Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Spring 2010


The pinnacle of the Science Ladder within the company is the role of Principal Syngenta Fellow and in this issue we meet the two scientists who have achieved this highest scientific level. Both Alain De Mesmaeker and Mary-Dell Chilton have followed different paths to get to their current level, but both have long and creative scientific careers and are contributing to the company’s aim of growing more from less.

Philosophy and Chemistry an interview with Principal Syngenta Fellow Alain De Mesmaeker by Stuart John Dunbar “I read a lot, mostly history, philosophy and classic literature” was Alain’s response to my question on what he does in his spare time. This should come as no surprise to those of us who know Alain. He has a wide range of knowledge on lots of subjects. This became very clear during our interview. Alain has recently been promoted to “Principal Syngenta Fellow”. This is the highest scientific level in the company and there are only two Principal Fellows amongst more than 25,000 employees. Challenging and supporting chemistry Alain became interested in chemistry at an early age. “I had an inspiring teacher at school in Belgium; he showed me how chemistry could be a really fascinating subject” However Alain very nearly did not become a chemist! For one month after school he hesitated between taking philosophy or chemistry at University. He chose chemistry as he felt his interests in literature could be continued as a hobby. He has maintained both these interests throughout his career. Alain spent 11 years in Pharmaceutical Research and, so far, 13 years in Crop Protection Research (CPR). I asked him “What are the differences and similarities in the two industries?” “They both have great scientists – the quality of the research is of the highest order. However, I prefer crop protection. The combination of excellent, impactful, science and something you can measure in daily life is unique. The more you learn about the science the more there is to discover. I find this very stimulating scientifically. Size also matters. Syngenta is not too huge – you know everyone in your area and you can have real impact. You are not a cog in a machine.”


Alain is based at Stein in Switzerland and currently has a role of challenging and supporting chemistry projects to identify new innovations to overcome barriers to success. He gets most inspiration from helping people and working across scientific borders; integrating chemistry, biology, and bioscience. During his career he has made many breakthroughs, he is at his happiest when he is part of a multi-disciplinary team. “The two projects I am most proud of integrated chemistry with bioscience; DNA antisense when I was in Central Research and later in CPR the HPPD project.” Fantastic opportunity to promote science Finally I asked “What does being a Principal Fellow mean to you scientifically?” Alain’s response summed up his approach to science. “I was really honoured to be considered. It is a fantastic opportunity to promote science. Being a Principal Fellow will enable me to use the Fellows’ Network to involve more people in what I do. It will give me more freedom to have new ideas and launch new projects. Being a Fellow will also enable me to connect with new areas of science within the company and help me become a better ambassador for the excellent work we do.” Just like his scientific life, Alain’s family is a highly interconnected one. He has two daughters, one in England and one in Belgium, so working across borders is as important to his home life as it is to his working environment. His wife Nadine is also a scientist at Syngenta, working in the Patents Group at Stein. Alain says he does have one thing he wants to take

Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Spring 2010

time to do and that is more sport. He is a supporter of Olympique de Marseille football (soccer) club but he would like to become a more active sportsperson. He still takes time to read though, bridging the gap between science and literature. We all welcome him to the Fellows’ network. Alain’s career in brief After completing his degree and Masters in Chemistry at the Catholic University of Louvain, Alain went on to do a PhD with Professor H.G. Viehe entitled “Synthesis and thermal isomerisation of capto-dative substituted cyclopropanes.” This work led him to post-doctoral research at the famous Weizmann Institute in Israel where he worked for two years before joining Ciba-Geigy Central Research Laboratories in 1985, working in collaboration with the Pharmaceuticals Group on natural products, carbohydrates and nucleic acids. Alain became a group leader in 1989 and in 1994 was responsible for combinatorial chemistry research in collaboration with external organisations such as Chiron Research in the USA. In 1997 he transferred to Crop Protection in the newly formed Novartis Crop Protection Business, becoming Head of Chemistry Projects in 2000. On formation of Syngenta he was Head of Optimisation Chemistry and subsequently Global Head of Research Chemistry. In 2008 he became Senior Chemistry Expert and was promoted to Principal Fellow in January 2010.


Contact: alain.de_mesmaeker@syngenta.com

Making things work an interview with Principal Syngenta Fellow Mary-Dell Chilton “I’m not interested in the nitty-gritty, tiny details. I want to make things work and get on to the next thing,” says Principal Syngenta Fellow Mary-Dell Chilton. “I’m basically an engineer in my outlook.” Colleagues know ‘The Routine’ if they really have an urgent need to reach Mary-Dell. Don’t e-mail, text or even call her. You probably won’t get through. Posting a note on her lab door, however, just might work as the least intrusion on her tireless quest to improve the performance of crops through plant genetics. At a life stage when most in her peer group are more likely to be found in the garden or on the golf course, Mary-Dell can still be found most days and many evenings in her lab at Syngenta Biotechnology, Inc., in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, USA. Her focus at the moment, as with many in the company, is finding ways to successfully deliver stacks of multiple traits into the crop genome. Lasting place in the annals of plant science She still uses the same method and primary tool, transformation via the soil microbe Agrobacterium tumefaciens, that she employed in research in the 1970s that secured her a lasting place in the annals of plant science. In a 1977 article in the journal Cell, Mary-Dell reported the finding that a soil bacterium called Agrobacterium, that was known to cause galls (tumors) on plants, does so by transferring a group of its genes into chromosomes of the host plant, taking over the plant’s cellular machinery and making the cells grow rapidly, forming a gall. Five years later, her team at Washington University, in collaboration with Andrew Binns at the University of Pennsylvania, harnessed the genetransfer mechanism of Agrobacterium to produce the first transgenic plant. In 1983, Syngenta predecessor CIBAGeigy recruited her from academia to launch a research center based on the new advances in plant biotechnology.

In December 2009 she was honored by the company in ceremonies marking the 25th anniversary of the opening of that center, now known as SBI, which she also led through its first 10 years. International recognition In 2002, the prestigious Franklin Institute, recognizing the impact of her work on yield gains and loss prevention for growers across the globe, awarded her the Benjamin Franklin Award for Life Sciences, putting her in company with Einstein, the Curies and Edison, among others. The finding that Agrobacterium DNA could lodge and function in a foreign plant cell contradicted conventional wisdom of the time, which was that recombination could only occur between similar DNA strands, not foreign DNA from another organism. Further, the finding that genes from a bacterium could actually function in a plant cell was totally surprising. “One thing that has made this research so much fun,” Mary-Dell says, “was the way this bacterium broke so many of the rules we had learned as students. Agrobacterium was an iconoclast!” That gift for metaphor, delivered with a twinkle of the eye and a vocal spark, is characteristic of “Mary-Dell,” as she insists on being called. Her career featured major professional and personal accomplishments. Her focus is legendary – but it would be hard to imagine a warmer, more personable figure. Or one less predictable. For example, she firmly rejects the notion that she might have had an extra challenge in fighting her way to the top of a historically maledominated field. “I don’t think the discrimination against women in science thing has entered into my career, anywhere,” she says. “The place where I was impacted was when I was a college freshman and they wouldn’t let me sign up for Astronomy 101 until I was a sophomore, even though I had made telescopes (as a Westinghouse Talent Search national winner) in high school. That just made me mad and I decided the astronomers could take a hike if they didn’t want me.”

A generous teacher Annick de Framond, a longtime colleague of Mary-Dell’s who has co-published with her many times, started her career as a graduate student under her in St. Louis. “She was the most generous teacher,” Annick says. “I remember once when we did a paper from her lab and she put my name first on the publication. Usually supervisors do the opposite.” That act reflects a generosity of spirit she and others saw time and again. When Mary-Dell met the young Annick, arriving at the airport from her native France for the first time as a graduate student, she invited her to live with her and her husband, Scott, until she was established. She was the first of some 30 young scientists from abroad to live with the Chiltons upon their arrival. Their home to this day is fondly remembered as the ‘Chilton Hilton.’ “I remember we’d all work with Mary-Dell in her lab until it was midnight, when we’d go home and watch Mission Impossible,” Annick says. “Mary-Dell is extremely interested in the development of young people in science with internships, post docs and the like,” added Qiudeng Que, another longtime colleague at SBI. “She has helped a lot of people who became giants in our field.” Today Mary-Dell’s budding research center has grown from a tiny core to a sprawling facility where more than 400 professionals pursue a wide range of biotech development projects ranging from insect and herbicide resistant crops to water-optimized seeds and seeds designed to enhance biofuel processing. “I was at a place in science where I needed collaboration from someone more deeply into agriculture,” Mary-Dell recalled of her decision to come to industry. “I didn’t know. We had this tool but didn’t know what genes crop plants wanted to have in order to improve.” Today, however, in no small thanks to her, we do.


Contact: marydell.chilton@syngenta.com

Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Spring 2010


Out and About Our intrepid reporters, Carolyn Riches and Ashley Collins have been tracking down other examples of where Syngenta people are making a difference.

Allelic diversity goes wild Scientists at Syngenta Biotechnology, Inc (SBI) in the USA are utilizing Allelic Diversity (AD) like never before. Using 2nd Generation sequencing technology, called the Illumina Genome Analyzer II, SBI scientists can identify and utilize the untapped genetic diversity that resides in exotic maize germplasms developed by Sonali Gandhi in Clinton, Illinois, faster than ever. The AD program aims to enable the isolation of exotic alleles of genes and introgress them into our commercial cultivars. Identifying enhanced alleles for trait improvement, helps our breeders get solutions to our customers for common issues such as yield, drought or pest resistance. Using the Illumina Sequencer, SBI scientists have sequenced pieces of 10-20,000 genes from more than 135 exotic maize lines developed through the AD Maize program.

“Before using this platform, we could only sequence a section of a line at a time,” says Sarah Muncie, research scientist, Integrated Genome Biology. “Now, we can look at larger regions of the genome of each of the lines at once.” This means the AD team are potentially able to identify alleles that may have positive effects on traits much faster. Sarah explains: “It’s similar to looking on


a map and being able to see an entire region rather than just one city. Originally, you may have been looking at one location at a time, but there are more regions that could be beneficial to visit.” By examining entire genomes across diversity germplams panels, the team is opening the possibility to find new results quicker and maybe even information they weren’t originally searching for, enabling Syngenta to bring novel solutions to growers, faster! Cloud birds Birds form an important part of the mythology of native peoples in the Americas. Guatemala’s native bird is the Quetzal or cloud bird. It lives in the rainforests in the Alta Verapaz highlands. These rainforests play a crucial ecological role in the area, providing water for two rivers and are also host to the national orchid the Monja Blanca. The region’s native people live as nomad farmers, living on the hills, but the soil is poor so they continually burn the forest to use the land for farming. This deforestation has caused landslides and made many species extinct, placing the cloud bird under ecological stress. Since 1997 Syngenta’s Crop Protection team in Guatemala has been involved with the Eco-Quetzal project which aims to conserve and protect the forests by providing its native inhabitants with alternative ways to earn their livelihood by promoting sustainable use of renewable natural resources. The project provides training on how to manage their environment, preserve

Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Spring 2010

The colourful Quetzal bird

the soil and protect the birds from improper use of pesticides. The project has made many achievements, including establishing 7,400 hectares of protected forest, creating new income sources for the native peoples and reducing cases of pesticide poisoning by 50%. Contact: franz.dieseldorff@syngenta.com Patchwork forest Syngenta has been working with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to help co-ordinate farmers in protecting patches of virgin forest with high conservation value in Brazil. Where land has been cleared for farming, it is not unusual for 90-95% of the forest to be turned into arable land. In areas such as the Cerrados in Mato Grosso, the soils are heavily limed and fertilized to make them usable for crops such as soya and cotton. Current regulations require that in these areas at least 20% land is left uncleared and more in areas closer to the Amazon rainforest. However, due to the fertilization of the soil, cleared areas cannot easily be returned to their original state. As a result, the farms are no longer in compliance and cannot get a premium price for their produce. To bring their overall holding back into compliance, Syngenta and TNC are working

with farmers to identify blocks of virgin forest that they can purchase and protect. If these blocks are adjacent then the overall conservation value is increased. Wildlife has a much larger overall area to use rather than being isolated on smaller islands of forest. Where protected blocks join together larger areas of natural habitat, they become ‘wildlife corridors’ and the total number of species that can exist in the overall the area is increased.

for birds and insects on arable farms. Information is based on research from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and Marek Nowakowski (Wildlife Farming Agronomist).

Marek Nowakowski explains how to boost farmland wildlife

Cleared forest converted to cotton fields after harvest

“This is Syngenta’s ‘grow more from less’ approach in action. Land suitable for high productivity is being farmed and at the same time other land that might have been cleared for lower levels of production is being protected for the benefit of the species that live there,” says Richard Brown (Head of Product Stewardship). Growing farmland wildlife Intensive UK farming has worked for food production, now it’s also working for wildlife sustainability. Over the last 50 years, diverse habitats have given way to demanding farming methods. But today, higher productivity through better technologies and farming practices allow farmers to produce more with less. In addition, agri-environment schemes, such as Entry Level Stewardship (ELS), encourage farmers to find workable and cost-effective solutions to boost wildlife on their farms. Syngenta has a good relationship with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and has worked alongside them to develop practical solutions to support farmland bird populations. Syngenta Crop Protection UK and the RSPB have co-sponsored a DVD entitled ‘Growing Farmland Wildlife’. “We’re delighted to support this DVD, which is an invaluable reference tool for farmers wanting to understand how they can increase biodiversity on farms,” says Luke Gibbs (Head of Syngenta Public Affairs, UK). Produced by Natural England and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the DVD contains advice and guidance for farmers on getting the most out of their wildlife habitats – with proven benefits

In addition to distribution from DEFRA, our UK Field Force Teams will circulate the DVD to Syngenta customers this Spring. “The DVD is particularly timely as many farmers are about to renew their ELS agreements or are looking to join the scheme for the first time,” continues Luke. “It brilliantly highlights the ways in which farming can be highly productive whilst being environmentally sustainable.” Biodiversity brings brand to life Employees at the T&P Műnchwilen product development site in Switzerland have put biodiversity into practice by planting a wildflower margin and at the same time created their own brand story! The aim of the project is to find out which wildflower growing regimes (e.g. fertilisers and weed control) have the greatest influence on local biodiversity (plants, insects, birds) and enable staff to relate their personal experiences to Syngenta’s biodiversity theme. Staff have sown two native wildflower mixes, helped manage the growing regimes and created self-guided plot tours. Experts and contacts in agriculture, botany, ornithology, and entomology have provided support in species identification and labelling. The wildflower margin is located outside the staff cafeteria. “This means we see the development whilst eating our lunch. It really brings the brand to life for us,” says Heinz Binz (Communications Manager, Műnchwilen).

Műnchwilen employees sow the wildflower plots

The project has delivered valuable educational and public relations results. “We have interesting stories, new experiences and even received unexpected acclaim from Dr Christian Körner, Professor at the Basel University Institute of Botany,” continues Heinz. Weeds have grown like a jungle on the untreated reference plot, illustrating what a crop has to compete with if herbicides are not used. “This has been a key learning for us. Even one of our managed plots had tree seedlings by the end of last summer – we’d have a forest in ten years time if we left it alone,” explains Heinz. The first set of results are being published as we go to press. For more information, please contact Heinz Binz (Heinz.binz@ syngenta.com) or follow the story on the Syngenta intranet: http://global22. pro.intra/WMUBrandAmbassador/de/ biodiversity_project/ Paraquat saves soil in the Philippines New results from a five year study of how paraquat can protect Philippine soil as part of a no-till agriculture system have been announced. Professor Gil Magsino from the University of the Philippines presented the findings and conclusions from the Sagip-Lupa project’s 4th Annual Report at the University of Benguet. The project looked at three Philippine sites and compared the soil losses of paraquat-enabled no-till agriculture with those lost to traditional farming methods (where ploughing and hand hoeing remove unwanted plant material, disturb the soil and reduce biodiversity, leaving the soil prone to erosion). Findings over a four year period have shown that more than 100t/ha of topsoil have been lost to traditional farming methods, which is significantly higher than in the no-till system. The paraquat system also significantly out yielded the traditional system by 11 times (depending on the crop). Paraquat-enabled no-till agriculture works by spraying the weeds only when necessary, minimizing soil disturbance. By leaving plant roots intact to anchor the soil and dead weeds on the surface, soil structure is improved and organic matter and microbe levels increase. Water infiltrates more quickly and is less likely to wash the topsoil away. Ultimately, the improved biodiversity means a healthy soil and more nutrients available for crops. This is especially important in areas prone to heavy rainfall and flooding, including the Benguet area. Contact: alex.yau@syngenta.com

Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Spring 2010


Editor’s comments Reflections on growing more from less whilst maintaining biodiversity

This biodiversity issue of Science Matters gives you a snapshot of Syngenta’s activities in preserving the biodiversity of our environment for us all. As the articles highlight, the challenges of feeding a growing population with pressures on available water supply and the impact of climate change mean we have to be even more vigilant in protecting the biodiversity of the environment. As Richard Brown says in the opening sentence of his article “Biodiversity is central to the stability of the Earth’s environment, it is also central to Syngenta’s imperative of producing more from less” Why is this? The biodiversity of plants is the foundation of modern agriculture. The Crop Diversity Trust estimates that there are over 200,000 varieties of wheat alone, see www.croptrust.org/main/ for more details. Variations in species and natural biodiversity of plants enabled breeders to develop the higher yielding varieties essential to improving crop yields. By improving yields we are using the farmland more efficiently. However, low yields are a recipe for deforestation and the destruction of fragile habitats, as growers are forced to bring more land into production to feed an expanding population. Biodiversity is also essential to some of the strategies needed to overcome the impact of climate change. By accessing varieties that can tolerate different climactic conditions, breeders can transfer desirable genetic traits to high yielding crop varieties via conventional or genetic manipulation approaches. The “peppers team” highlight how the integration of desirable traits from wild and cultivated species is used to overcome diseases, insects and resist drought in their article “Things are hotting up in the world of peppers”. This


use of the rich diversity of plant genetics is only one example of the importance of biodiversity to breeding new varieties, there are a lot of other examples from across the company, from breeding new ornamental flowers like Impatiens and new tomato varieties to the breeding of new sugar beet varieties to better resist drought. Small changes can have big effects We have shown that small changes to farming practices can have big effects on preserving biodiversity. The articles on birds and bees illustrate this very well where active management of field margins can preserve the biodiversity of birds and pollinating insects. This has a real impact on yields too as Jeff Peters discussed in his article “Bee Alert”, 30% of the world’s food supply depends on bees for pollination.

and helping preserve nutrients that might be reduced by ploughing. It also helps reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses produced by farming since a large component of the greenhouse gasses in farming result from ploughing. Biodiversity is at the heart of bringing plant potential to life As you can see, the importance of Biodiversity to sustainable agriculture cannot be over-emphasised. Protecting the biodiversity of the environment is also at the heart of our purpose of “Bringing plant potential to life”.

Further resources For more details on what Syngenta is doing to conserve biodiversity visit www.syngenta.com/en/corporate_ responsibility/conserving_biodiversity.html

Healthy soil leads to healthy plants Crop yields are also dependent on healthy soil, which will be the theme of the next edition of Science Matters. You probably know that soil nutrients are key to healthy plant growth, and therefore good yields. You might not have thought about the soil as a rich environment whose biodiversity is important to preserve to maintain high crop yields. Alain Gaume highlights this important issue. Unfortunately we know less about the soil micro-environment, the interactions between species and their impact on plant growth, than we do about the organisms we can see above ground. Alain is also part of a new “Rhizosphere Network” which is a company-wide network of scientists looking at the soil and its ecosystem as a whole; understanding the biodiversity of the soil and how this impacts plant growth. No-till farming has been shown to help maintain the biodiversity of the soil by maintaining its micro-structure

Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Spring 2010

Stuart John Dunbar is a Senior Syngenta Fellow and Editor of Science Matters. His degree is in Zoology from Nottingham University and he did a PhD in insect neurobiology. After a couple of post-docs, Stuart joined the company 25 years ago as an insect electrophysiologist. He is currently a group leader of Biochemistry which is part of Bioscience Section at Jealott’s Hill International Research Centre in the UK.


Contact: stuart.dunbar@syngenta.com

Ladybirds are one of the most visible and well-known beneficial insects feeding on many hundreds of aphids and other pests throughout their life.

Syngenta Fellows - supporting Syngenta Science Science Matters is a magazine supported by the Syngenta Fellows to recognize and communicate the excellent science throughout Syngenta. The main contact for comment and future content is Stuart J. Dunbar who can be contacted at Syngenta Limited, Jealott’s Hill International Research Centre, Bracknell, Berkshire, RG42 6EY, United Kingdom or by email at stuart.dunbar@syngenta.com.

Editor-in-Chief: Sandro Aruffo Editors: Stuart John Dunbar and Mike Bushell The Editors would like to acknowledge the valuable contributions of John Emsley and the authors and other persons named in each article. The views expressed in this magazine are the views of the authors and may not necessarily always reflect the views or policies of Syngenta. Design & Production: Kre8tive Communications Limited. Print: Geerings Print Limited Unless otherwise indicated, trademarks indicated thus ® or TM are the property of a Syngenta Group Company. The Syngenta wordmark and ‘Bringing plant potential to life’ are trademarks of Syngenta International AG. © Syngenta International AG, 2010. All rights reserved. Editorial completion April 2010. Science Matters is printed using water reduction processes, including a completely chemical and water free printing plate making process. In addition, all water used in the actual printing process is re-circulated and new water is only added to replace that lost by evaporation. Science Matters is printed on 9lives80 which is produced with 80 percent recovered fibre comprising 10 percent packaging waste, 10 percent best white waste, 60 percent de-inked waste fibre and only 20 percent virgin totally chlorine free fiber sourced from sustainable forests.

Cautionary statement regarding forward-looking statements This document contains forward-looking statements, which can be identified by terminology such as “expect”, “would”, “will”, “potential”, “plans”, “prospects”, “estimated”, “aiming”, “on track”, and similar expressions. Such statements may be subject to risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from these statements. We refer you to Syngenta’s publicly available filings with the US Securities and Exchange Commission for information about these and other risks and uncertainties. Syngenta assumes no obligation to update forward looking statements to reflect actual results, changed assumptions or other factors. This document does not constitute, or form part of, any offer or invitation to sell or issue, or any solicitation of any offer, to purchase or subscribe for any ordinary shares in Syngenta AG, or Syngenta ADSs, nor shall it form the basis of, or be relied on in connection with, any contract therefore.

Science Matters Keeping abreast of Syngenta R&D Spring 2010

Profile for Syngenta UK Limited

Science Matters : Spring 2010  

Biodiversity This special issue marking the International Year of Biodiversity shows how we are providing solutions to help farmers across...

Science Matters : Spring 2010  

Biodiversity This special issue marking the International Year of Biodiversity shows how we are providing solutions to help farmers across...