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What do affiliates do? A round up of recent activity

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By Neil McRoberts - Posted on 20 November 2017

CEPB has a number of affiliated faculty who make occasional appearances at lab meetings or contribute sporadically to the email listserve conversations.  It might be difficult to tell from those interactions with the lab alone, what it is that we do.  In response to that question, here's a short list of some of the issues that I and the other members of the Quantitative Biology & Epdemiology Lab have been working on this year.  These are all on-going projects.

  • A participatory study of resistance to adoptipon of risk-based sampling by agricultural commodity port inspectors, in face of evidence that RBS is more efficient and effective than fixed proportion sampling.  QBE Lab grad student Sara Garcia Figuera is working with me on this, together with collaborators from USDA-APHIS and the North American Plant Protection Organization (NAPPO).  We used Fuzzy Cognitive Mapping to capture the views of a range of workshop participants on the reasons for non-adoption.
  • Evaluation of potential components of a regulatory framework for seed importation to the USA.  The plant seed trade is one of the least-well-regulated aspects of agricultural trade globally.  Seeds pose one of the major risk pathways for the intrduction of invasive pests and diseases, but are currently subject to almost no effective regulation. There is a collaborative international effort by phytosanitary regulators to establish a self-certification scheme for seed industry participants.  Essentially a carrot and stick approach to regulatory oversight is being suggested in which particpating seed companies who self-certify, in accordance with a yet-to-be-developed accreditation scheme, will avoid high inspection rates, while those who opt out become subject to a range of potential cost-inducing inspections.  Sara Garcia Figuera is currently on secondment with USDA-APHIS in Raleigh NC helping pull together the wide range of literature on possible approaches to the new policy, and writing scientific critiques of each one to help APHIS staff come up with the proposed framework.
  • Economic evaluation of the prospects for gene drive technologies in applications such as agricultural pest control and elimination of invasive species from valued habitats.  The newest generation of gene editing approaches allows the introduction of traits that render organsims unfit, and yet still causes those traits to be "driven" into a population by linking them to additional fitness factors that short-circuit the usual competition dynamics.  The approach has been suggested for a wide range of uses, including making mosquitoes that are incapable of vectoring malaria or dengue fever, making insect vectors of plant diseases unable to carry the plant pathogens, or elimination of invasive pests distrupting island ecosystems.  Use of such technologies raises a number of important questions about downstream, unintended consequences and the factors that are likely to lead to successful or failed applications.  Questions of this sort fall into the provenance of the new discipline of Responsible Innovation and, together with economists from University of Wisconsin, Madison, and North Carolina State University, Raleigh, we contributed a paper about the economic perspective on these issues to a forthcoming special "gene drives" issue of the JRI that will be published next year.
  • Science in policy support in California's efforts to suppress citrus huanglonbing (HLB) disease.  The disease, which kills citrus trees of all kinds, has been spreading round the world over the last 100 years.It is spread by a small insect, the Asian Citrus Psyllid (ACP).  ACP was first found in California in 2008.  The first case of HLB was detected in the Hacienda Heights area of greater LA in 2012, and there are now close to 300 known cases, spread over LA, Orange County and Riverside.  So far all known cases are in private yards with no known infected trees in commercial citrus.  Efforts to control the disease are spearheaded by the Citrus Pest and Disease Prevention Committee  - a collaboration between growers and the CDFA, funded by an annual assessment on citrus production of about $20M.  We provide on the spot scientific advise to the Operations Sub Committee of the CPDPC and also work on special projects over longer time scales.  For example, we are currently preparing a policy briefing that will be used by CDFA to request emergency rule-making on state internal quarantine areas because the HLB epidemic has grown exponentially in the last 6 months.  In the longer term, we are working with Mark to decide how best to study and tackle the numerous cooperation and coordination  problems that arise in such a complex response to an invasive disease.