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United against potato viruses: The ‘Potato Virus Initiative’ advances detection, breeding, and management strategies

In a groundbreaking effort to combat the pervasive threats of Potato Virus Y (PVY) and Potato Mop-Top Virus (PMTV), the federally funded “Potato Virus Initiative” is making significant strides. This ambitious project, led by the University of Idaho’s Alex Karasev, is a collaborative endeavor involving over 25 researchers from institutions nationwide.

The initiative’s primary mission is to develop advanced virus management strategies, improve detection methods, breed resistant potato varieties, and implement effective in-season management solutions.

The project has developed an annual newsletter that informs readers about all the research that has been conducted to date from all researchers, Extension professionals and seed certification programs from across the country in an easy-to-read format. Topics discussed include research about PVY and PMTV detection methods, new virus management strategies, breeding development for PVY and PMTV resistance and economic incentives to aid the industry moving forward.

The newsletter can be viewed online here. Flip through the newsletter to learn more about how the project is developing solutions against vector borne tuber necrotic viruses. The 52 page newsletter can also be downloaded as a pdf file here.

Key Highlights from the Initiative newsletter:

Below is a snapshot of some of the research projects, explained and discussed in detail in the newsletter – readers are encouraged to read the full newsletter.

Advanced Detection Methods: Researchers at Michigan State University, under the leadership of Jaime Willbur and Mio Satoh-Cruz, have made notable progress in optimizing PVY detection tools. Their comparative analysis of direct tuber RT-PCR and leaflet ELISA methods promises earlier and more accurate virus identification, a critical step for seed certification programs.

Accelerating Dormancy Break: At the University of Idaho, innovative treatments involving smoke and gibberellic acid (GA) are being tested to hasten dormancy break in seed potatoes. This research, spearheaded by Nathan Gelles, Rabecka Hendricks, and Nora Olsen aims to enhance the reliability of direct tuber testing for PVY, ensuring timely and accurate results for growers.

Yield Impact Studies: Extensive field trials by the University of Idaho team have shed light on the yield impacts of seedborne PVY infection. These studies by Nathan Gelles, Rabecka Hendricks, and Nora Olsen reveal that while PVY infection does affect yield, the severity varies by potato cultivar and infection levels, providing valuable insights for commercial producers.

Optimal Post-Harvest Detection: Trials by a research team at North Dakota State University have identified the most effective timing for potato mop top virus (PMTV) detection in tubers, significantly improving the efficiency of seed testing programs. The research recommends conducting tests three months post-harvest for optimal results.

Size of the mother seed tuber: Nathan Gelles, Rabecka Hendricks, and Nora Olsen conducted a study to determine if seedborne PVY incidence in a seed lot is impacted by the size of the mother tuber used at planting. This would help clarify if seed certification agencies are inadvertently selecting potatoes with higher or lower levels of PVY due to tuber size restrictions during WGO sampling. The results indicated, among others, that PVY accumulated equally within tubers of previously infected mother plants without regards to final daughter tuber size, which supports the claim that seed certification agencies are not preferentially selecting for higher or lower levels of PVY based upon tuber size restrictions.

Effective Management Strategies: The University of Idaho’s Kelie Yoho and Erik Wenninger have demonstrated the efficacy of mineral crop oils in reducing PVY spread under overhead irrigation. Their findings highlight the benefits of integrating mineral oils with insecticides in pest management programs.

Soil Microbiome Insights: Researchers from Oregon State University and USDA-ARS are delving into the soil microbiome to uncover factors that contribute to powdery scab suppression. This innovative research aims to identify beneficial microbial taxa and agricultural practices that can naturally enhance disease resistance. The researchers have developed greenhouse assays that help to identify soils with PS suppressive activity. They have identified a few soils with PS suppressive activity and are currently analyzing the bulk and rhizosphere soil microbiomes associated with PS suppressive and conducive soils.

PVY in-season transmission: Kasia M. Duellman, Melinda A. Lent, Cong Liu, Lindsey F. McKinney and Erik Wenniger at the University of Idaho launched a research study to determine if PVY incidence in daughter tubers from potato plants differs based on timing of exposure to aphids, and if protection is required after estimated onset of age-related resistance. The results support recommendations for PVY mitigation efforts to extend at least to onset of tuber bulking. Furthermore, our data suggest that onset of age-related resistance may not contribute substantively to PVY management in a field setting until later in the season.

Breeding for Resistance: The initiative’s breeding program is making headway in developing molecular markers for resistance genes against PVY and PMTV. Ongoing genetic analysis aims to better understand virus impacts on potato physiology and accelerate the breeding of resistant potato varieties.

The power of collaborative research

The “Potato Virus Initiative: Developing Solutions” exemplifies the power of collaborative research in addressing critical agricultural challenges. By uniting top experts and leveraging cutting-edge science, this initiative is poised to deliver impactful solutions that will benefit potato growers and the broader agricultural community.

For more information, visit the Potato Virus Initiative website at The 2024 issue of the Initiative’s newsletter can be viewed online here, and can be downloaded as a pdf file here. The Initiative maintains a LinkedIn channel here.

Source: Potato Virus Initiative
Project Director: Alex Karasev, University of Idaho
Co-Project Directors:

  • Amy Charkowski, Colorado State University
  • Walter De Jong, Cornell University
  • Kenneth Frost, Oregon State University

Cover image: PVY field demonstration plots. Credit and courtesy University of Idaho

Editor & Publisher: Lukie Pieterse

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