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IBL-research interview: Kirsten Leiss

Kirsten Leiss, at the IBL since 2001, is developing new ways of crop protection in order to decrease the use of pesticides: As a model she uses the thrip, a tiny insect which causes economic losses worldwide by silver- and growth damage and virus transmission to vegetables, fruits and flowers.

Purpose of research

Finding new ways of crop protection is important for several reasons. Thrips hide on plants which requires frequent spraying. This leads to development of  insecticide resistance, making pesticides less effective against thrips. In addition, there are problems on marketable crops, contamination of the environment, such as the ground water and toxicity towards beneficial organisms such as bumble bees as pollinators. Therefore, an ecofriendly approach  within an integrated pest management (IPM) strategy  is needed.

Research projects

Kirsten Leiss

Leiss has developed an eco-metabolomic approach to investigate host plant resistance as an important part of natural crop protection. This approach is based on the ability of a plant to defend itself and is used in several ongoing research projects on finding new ways of crop protection: One of the research projects runs in collaboration with breeding company Rijk Zwaan. The project focuses on developing genetic markers for  resistance to thrips in tomato plants. Another project, funded by an STW grant, is about developing metabolite markers for host plant resistance to main pests in  chrysanthemum.

With an STW Perspective grant, Leiss also heads a research project which focusses on using metabolites known to confer thrips resistance to develop seed coatings and dips for cuttings to protect young plants from  thrips. In addition UV light and bacterial infection is used to induce plant compounds related to thrips resistance. Another project, funded by a TKI grant, strives for more strawberries with less pesticides. To accomplish this goal, strawberry varieties are screened for resistance to thrips and morphological as well as chemical traits related to thrips resistance are identified.

Platform crop protection

In co-operation with several European partners, Kirsten Leiss and Peter Klinkhamer, professor of evolutionary plant ecology at Leiden University, are developing  a research infrastructure platform to use the wealth of plant metabolites  solving crop protection problems.

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