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National project led by U of I tackles virus threats to potato industry

A University of Idaho-led team will tackle a pair of viruses that cause major losses to the potato industry. In a press release issued by the University, it is said that U of I researcher and potato virus expert Alex Karasev will lead the project funded by a $5.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute for Food and Agriculture.

The team of two dozen scientists will target potato virus Y (PVY) and potato mop top virus (PMTV) in seed potatoes, the first level of commercial potato production, and in potatoes grown for market.

The project involves seed improvement organizations nationally that certify seed potatoes are disease free.

Long known as a serious problem for growers, PVY damages plants and reduces yields and the size of the potatoes, making the crop less valuable. An earlier U of I study estimated losses from PVY cost Idaho’s potato industry $34 million a year and reduced potential yields by 10 to 50%.

PMVT presents the potato industry with a new problem. Six states have found the virus in their seed potato crops. An estimated 5% of Maine’s seed potatoes carry PMTV. The virus is transmitted by protists, microbes that have qualities of fungi and algae.

The project includes university researchers in 10 potato-growing states, including Idaho, Colorado, New York and Oregon, and USDA Agricultural Research Service scientists based in Prosser, Washington, and Aberdeen, Idaho. U of I researchers in Idaho Falls, Kimberly and Moscow will work on the project.

The new four-year project continues work Karasev participated in that was originally led by a New York-based researcher who retired earlier this year.

“Because of its position as the nation’s top potato-producing state, it is fitting that Idaho is leading the project,” Karasev said.

The most immediate goal is to give potato growers tools to control the viruses with better ways to test plants and fields. A key medium-range goal focuses on strategies to control pests that spread the viruses and to educate growers. A long-range priority is identifying genes that can provide resistance to the viruses and their vectors. Those genes can help potato breeding programs to develop new varieties.

Developing better testing can help seed potato producers to limit the spread of the viruses and prevent losses in the field and storage.

Researchers will study the economic impacts of the viruses and develop ways to communicate with and educate growers about the best strategies to reduce the viruses’ impacts.

Karasev won a mid-career award from U of I in 2013 partly for his work on PVY, which became an issue for Idaho growers in the early 2000s. He recently turned his attention to PMTV as its threat to the potato industry increased.

This project, titled “Development of Sustainable System-based Management Strategies for Two Vector-borne, Tuber Necrotic Viruses in Potato,” is funded under the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant No. 2020-51181-32136. The total project funding is $5,756,299 of which 100% is the federal share.

Source: University of Idaho

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Lukie Pieterse, Editor and Publisher of Potato News Today

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