Biotech Updates

Team Gets USD 3.9 Million to Study Unsightly Spud Disease

November 13, 2009

Researchers at the Texas AgriLife Research, led by Charlie Rush, will receive a USD 3.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture-National Institute of Food and Agriculture's Specialty Crop Research Initiative to study the mysterious Zebra Chip disease of potato. The disease was dubbed Zebra chip (ZC) because the afflicted tubers form unsightly black stripes when they are cut and fried to make chips or fries. First reported in Mexican potato fields in 1994 and in the U.S. spuds in 2000, the mystery spud disease has now been detected as far north as Nebraska and west to California.

Rush will bring together team members from six universities and the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS). "This group's goal is to reduce losses from zebra chip to economically sustainable levels by development of a comprehensive environmentally responsible disease-management program," Rush said.

Researchers are still searching for the culprit behind ZC. Farmers had been spraying their crops with insecticides to prevent psyllids (Bactericera cockerelli) from transmitting the disease. But they didn't know what actually caused the ZC, only that it correlated to psyllid feeding. Recently a team of scientists from ARS reported that they found genetic evidence suggesting that the disease is caused by a new species of Candidatus Liberibacter bacterium.

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