Global attack on potato blight

There is a real prospect of a global attack on potato blight, reports the European EuroBlight network, with the first steps being taken during the group’s biennial meeting in Romania last month (June). Experts from North America, South America and Asia joined their European colleagues at the meeting.

“They are very interested in our approach; the way we analyse the genetic variation in the field, for example,” said Huub Schepers, a phytophthora specialist at ENDURE’s Dutch partner Wageningen UR, told the EuroBlight website. “Conversely, we can learn a lot from them. The more we know about this pathogen, the more we can do to devise a comprehensive strategy.”

The first practical step will involve exchanging information on methods so researchers can use each other’s tools and data. Over the past two years in Europe, for example, the potato industry has been taking ‘fingerprints’ of Phytophthora infestans by rubbing infected parts of the plant on special cardboard cards. These are then analysed in laboratories at ENDURE partners Wageningen University and The James Hutton Institute in Scotland and a DNA profile is compiled, generating a picture of the genetic variation in Europe.

The aim is to gain more control over phytophthora. The European inventory has provided a better understanding of the strains of phytophthora that are active in Europe. EuroBlight reports that this information enables more targeted crop protection and helps growers to choose potato varieties with the right levels of resistance.

Research in other parts of the world tends to be more fundamental, reports EuroBlight, and does not involve a systematic practical inventory of this kind. It is not yet clear whether this would even be possible in these other countries. Working alongside commercial parties, such as crop protection firms or producers, is also less common. “But that was a gradual process here too,” recalled Huub. “Several parties need to be convinced that pre-competitive research is useful. This is perhaps where we come in.”

In the longer term, EuroBlight is hoping to develop a European research programme to study Integrated Pest Management (IPM) in potato, to which networks from other parts of the world will be allowed to participate.

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