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EMBL Forum Lectures

Christian Borgemeister

Christian Borgemeister

Monday, 10 January 2011, 15:00, Large Operon, EMBL Heidelberg

Christian Borgemeister, icipe, Nairobi, Kenya

How science can contribute to poverty alleviation in Africa


For close to 40 years scientists at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) have been developing tools and technologies to control arthropods as plant pests or vectors of important human and veterinary diseases in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Examples include work on tsetse flies (Glossina spp.) transmitting trypanosomes causing the nagana disease, with annual losses as high as $ 4.75 billion / yr the biggest threat to the livestock industry in Africa, and the dreaded Human African Trypanosomiasis (HAT) or Human Sleeping Sickness, one of the so-called neglected tropical diseases; Anopheles mosquitoes, the malaria vectors in tropical Africa, a disease that kills more than one million people annually; tick-borne diseases in livestock such as theileriosis, babesiosis, anaplasmosis, cowdriosis and dermatophilosis (in Africa 90% of cattle are infested with ticks and about $700 million are spent on acaricides annually); sandflies (Phlebotomus spp.) transmitting leishmaniasis; and recently several mosquito species transmitting arboviral diseases such as Rift Valley Fever, Dengue Fever, Chikungunya, Yellow Fever etc.

The main thrust of icipe’s research on disease vectors has always been to improve our understanding of their ecology and behaviour, and using this knowledge to develop simple but effective control tools. For instance one of the trademark innovations at icipe has been the development of the NGU trap, a simple but effective tsetse trap that due to its combination of highly attractive visual and olfactory cues can be efficiently used for monitoring and control of savannah species, the principal vectors of nagana. Presently similar bait (both visual and olfactory) technologies are being developed for riverine tsetse species, the main vectors of HAT. Work on mosquito control include both upstream research on host-seeking behaviour of the mosquitoes, and the role of plant-feeding in female Anopheles gambiae, as well as downstream research in development of integrated, community-based malaria control programmes specifically tailored for different ecosystems. Potent repellents for control of disease vectors are being developed from synthetic sources or from blends of un-preferred animals (e.g. waterbuck and zebra in case of tsetse) and un-preferred feeding sites (e.g. in case of ticks and mosquitoes). Tick management strategies based on behavioural manipulation using semiochemicals, repellents from ethno-botanicals with biopesticides are also being developed. Another way of ‘intelligent’ vector control is the so-called auto-dissemination approach, by which a vector is lured by a pheromone or kairomone to a device where it picks up a pathogen (most often spores of entomopathogenic fungi) that are then horizontally transmitted in the population.

Another thrust of icipe’s work has been the development of science-based environmentally friendly solutions to the plethora of indigenous and invasive crop pests in Africa. Examples include the discovery and use of PAN (phenylacetonitrile) the adult pheromone of the desert locust Schistocerca gregaria to prevent swarm formation, or push-pull, a multi-cropping platform technology that simultaneously addresses the major constraints for cereal (maize, millet, sorghum, upland rice) production in sub-Saharan Africa that are soil fertility, lepidopterous stemborers, and the parasitic striga weed.

In addition, the Centre has been engaged in many classical biological control as well as integrated pest management projects. Among the biggest successes in the former group have been the control of the invasive stemborer Chilo partellus in East and southern Africa, and that of the Diamondback moth Plutella xylostella in the highlands of East Africa. In the latter group icipe scientists are presently researching control solutions for important pests of high value crops like fruit flies, leafminers, and thrips.

Finally icipe has been successfully promoting the use of commercial insects like honey bees and silk worms as a means for income generation of marginalised communities, often living in the vicinity of protected areas. This approach not only contributes to uplifting communities of out poverty but also contributes to biodiversity conservation.

icipe’s philosophy is that a ‘silver bullet’ approach is not sustainable in combating important tropical diseases or plant pests in Africa. Rather, integrated disease and vector and pest management approaches that are based on sound science and address the most pertinent problems of the continent’s rural and urban poor are the most effective and sustainable solutions to contribute to poverty alleviation in Africa.

Christian Borgemeister was born in 1959 in Germany, received his 1st degree in agricultural engineering from the Georg-August University of Goettingen (Germany) in 1985. He did his PhD with Leibnitz University Hannover (Germany) and graduated in 1991 in horticultural entomology. From 1992 to the end of 1997 CB worked for the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) on the integrated control of an invasive storage pest in Africa. Between 1998 and 2005 he was a faculty member of Justus-Liebig University Giessen and Leibniz University Hannover, and since May 2005 is the 3rd Director General of icipe, a 40 years old pan-African research Centre headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya. CB has worked extensively in tropical Africa, Latin America and South-East Asia. He has authored and co-authored > 90 papers in peer-reviewed journals, co-edited a book on the history of biological control in Africa, and contributed chapters to several scientific books. CB is member of several scientific organizations, and a Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society. He his married to Juliana Jaramillo Salazar, a leading coffee researcher. They have one daughter.