Left to right: Supervisor Quint Rusman (Wageningen University), Peter Karssemeijer, Maaike Groot (East-West Seed) and Marcel Dicke (Wageningen University). Photo credits: Hilde de Wolf

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Peter Karssemeijer (Wageningen University) received the 5,000 Euro East-West Seed graduation prize for Plant Sciences at the Royal Holland Society for Sciences and Humanities (KHMW) in Haarlem. He received this young talent graduation prize for his research into the interaction between black mustard plants, three species of aphids and two species of pollinators. East-West Seed, a tropical vegetable seed company with Dutch roots, awards this prize to promote stronger interest in the study of Plant Sciences.

Plants defend themselves against insect herbivory, for instance by producing specific toxins or antifeedants. These self-defense mechanisms can have interesting side effects on other insects that live on the same plant. This type of interaction has until now been researched mainly for young plants, before they start flowering. Peter’s research was novel in several aspects. He studied flowering plants and the effects on pollinators. Pollinators are indispensable for production and reproduction of many vegetable crops and fruits, including cucumber, apple, avocado and berries.

He infected flowering black mustard plants with three different species of aphids: the cabbage aphid (Brevicoryne brassicae), the mustard aphid (Lipaphis erysimi)  and the green peach aphid (Myzus persicae). The aphids were placed on the leaves or flowers. In this situation, he studied the feeding preference of two different species of pollinators: the large white (Pieris brassicae) and the marmalade hoverfly (Episyrphus balteatus). The effects on the pollinators differed between the aphid species. Especially the mustard aphid, a pest in oilseed rape, contributed to an increased appeal of the plant among pollinators. It is possible that the plants change the odor profile of their flowers when under attack by these aphids.

Peter’s research provides deeper insights into agricultural ecosystems that can be utilized for more sustainable food production. This study teaches us that some pests may have a beneficial effect for plants. Peter has started his PhD to continue his research.

The jury praises the clarity of Peter’s descriptions, his methodology and statistical processing of the acquired data.

The East-West Seed Graduation Prize for Plant Sciences was awarded to Peter by Maaike Groot, Manager Public Affairs for East-West Seed. The jury review was executed by the Royal Holland Society for Sciences and Humanities. This society reviews many other major science awards.

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