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News

Wilting threat to commercial glasshouse tomato crop

Society For General Microbiology : 12 September, 2005  (New Product)
Commercial tomatoes have been bred to resist Verticillium wilt, but new strains of the fungus have appeared, attacking glasshouse crops in Britain and the Netherlands. Now scientists are fighting back using DNA forensics, according to research presented today at the Society for General Microbiology's 157th Meeting at Keele University, UK.
Commercial tomatoes have been bred to resist Verticillium wilt, but new strains of the fungus have appeared, attacking glasshouse crops in Britain and the Netherlands. Now scientists are fighting back using DNA forensics, according to research presented today at the Society for General Microbiology's 157th Meeting at Keele University, UK.

Wilt disease is caused by a microscopic soil fungus called Verticillium albo-atrum, but plant breeders successfully bred genetically resistant varieties. Since 1995 some strains of Verticillum have managed to infect tomatoes which should have been resistant. Even crops grown on rockwool slabs and in nutrient film solution were affected. The bases of these plants have no direct contact with the soil, which should prevent the fungal pathogen from entering through plant roots.

The latest attackers may be finding a new route into tomato nurseries, threatening the profitability of the whole industry, so a team of Nottingham scientists, jointly with ADAS UK Ltd, set out to identify the source of the infections.

'We are using a recently developed DNA 'fingerprinting' test to detect whether the pathogen is entering through water, airborne spores, insects, seeds, plant debris or irrigation systems,' says Dr Vinodh Krishnamurthy from the University of Nottingham, Division of Plant Sciences, which is based at Sutton Bonington near Loughborough in Leicestershire.

The researchers found that the fungus can enter the rockwool grown tomatoes both through their roots and through fresh cuts on the stems caused when leaves are trimmed. Air-borne spores of the fungus were also detected on a spore trap in a commercial crop, suggesting for the first time the possibility of aerial spread.

'We are looking at naturally occurring micro-organisms such as bacteria and harmless fungi, which we have found on the roots and stems of tomatoes, to see whether these can be used as an environmentally friendly way of fighting off this fungus which causes wilt,' says Dr Krishnamurthy. 'We think we may be able to use these possible bio-control agents, backed up by improved nursery hygiene and fungicides if necessary, to control Verticillum wilt outbreaks in commercial glasshouses.'
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