Last year, I conducted a field release trial with the egg parasitoid Anastatus bifasciatus that I am evaluating as a potential biocontrol agent for the invasive pest Halyomorpha halys, the brown marmorated stink bug. The success of the parasitoids was assessed by retrieving exposed sentinel H. halys (target) and non-target host eggs and rearing them in laboratory conditions. This method, however, underestimates the mortality caused by the beneficial insect. That is due to the unaccounted number of host eggs killed by either unsuccessful development of the parasitoids within the eggs or by probing and host feeding behavior of the adult wasps. Additionally, natural host egg masses collected in the field, from which parasitoids have already emerged, can indicate parasitoid presence but rarely provide the identity of the parasitoid species. Identification methods described in the literature, such as examining larval frass residues inside the otherwise empty host eggs, are not sufficiently reliable. Therefore, a molecular approach is being developed for identifying the natural enemy used in my project, which will be a more effective and useful tool for addressing these issues. In collaboration with Dr. Tara Gariepy, a research scientist from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, who developed a DNA barcoding method for our potential biocontrol agent, we are hoping to achieve this goal. It is at this point that the interconnectedness of the BINGO network becomes apparent: after having received the required information from Dr. Gariepy, I am able to continue a portion of the research in Prof. Dr. Leo Beukeboom’s lab at Groningen University. He supplies me with the necessary material, equipment and support for testing the sensitivity of the developed molecular marker. Working at Groningen University also provides me with a different perspective on the research experience in the Netherlands – ranging from lab rules and working hours to how traffic functions (becoming more afraid to be run over by a bike than by a car or tractor) and learning to deal with (stoically accepting) the several doses of daily rain and wind. I am grateful to have this opportunity to work in a molecular lab again, in which I had not been since my master thesis. It is a pleasure to be there and to include this facet in my project.
As with most (molecular) experiments, some troubleshooting is necessary and getting accustomed to different lab materials etc. requires some time, but having access to the knowledge base of Dr. Beukeboom’s lab, including the local BINGO ESR Kelley Leung, made these challenges surmountable and my Dutch experience in the bike town Groningen a thoroughly enjoyable one.