Findings Could Help Prevent Blight’s Entering U.S.

Published online: Jan 26, 2017 Fungicide Brad Buck
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New findings from researchers at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) could help prevent more genetic strains of the potato- and tomato-killing late-blight pathogen from entering the U.S.

These findings may provide further evidence to help researchers solve the $6 billion-a-year disease that continues to evolve and torment potato and tomato growers around the world.

Erica Goss, a UF/IFAS assistant professor of plant pathology, who published a study in 2014 showing Toluca, Mexico, as the origin of the late-blight pathogen, has now discovered the pathogen in other parts of Mexico. Goss and her team also found that each strain varies genetically.

Goss and her research team analyzed the genes of potato late blight pathogens and found the pathogen in western Mexico (Michoacan) differs genetically from the one in central (Toluca) and eastern Mexico (Tlaxcala and Puebla).

“This genetic difference allowed us to track the potential source of strains that show up in the U.S., just like genetic analysis of an American person of European ancestry would tell you if their family was more likely to have originated from western Europe or eastern Europe,” Goss says.

This finding could be crucial to helping feed more people, said Goss, who also is affiliated with the university’s Emerging Pathogens Institute.

“What our study shows is that there is more potential trouble that could make its way here, replace the existing genetic types of the pathogen in the U.S., and affect disease control,” she said.

To increase U.S. food security, Goss believes scientists should study the genetic variation in Mexico and try to track how the strains are coming to the U.S. so they can prevent future introductions.

“By doing more extensive sampling across Mexico, we could do more to pinpoint the source of strains that are showing up in the U.S.,” says Goss.

In the 1840s, the late-blight pathogen caused the Irish Potato Famine, which killed most of that country’s potatoes. Today, it costs Florida tomato growers—and growers across the country—millions of dollars each year in lost yield, unmarketable crop and control expenses.

A late blight pandemic in 2009 made the pathogen a household term in much of the eastern U.S. It made its way to the Northeast via tomatoes in big-box retailers. After planting the tomatoes, many home gardeners and organic producers lost most, if not all, of their crop, Goss says.

The study is published in the journal Molecular Ecology.


Source: Newswise