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USDA grant boosts OSU pathogen research team

The USDA grant will help fund the work of six researchers.
Eric Mortenson

Capital Press

Published on December 1, 2014 4:22PM

Last changed on December 2, 2014 11:09AM

A round, swollen area, called a crown gall, is typical of pathogen damage to nursery plants.

Courtesy of Oregon State University

A round, swollen area, called a crown gall, is typical of pathogen damage to nursery plants.

A $3 million USDA grant will help an Oregon State University research team get a step ahead of bacteria groups that cause severe damage to the state’s plant nursery industry.

An interdisciplinary research team will use the four-year grant to battle Agrobacterium tumefaciens and Rhodococcus fascians. The pathogens cause deformities on hundreds of widely used landscaping plants, including pansies, petunias, Shasta daisies and hostas, according to an OSU news release.

Grant funding will help researchers determine how the pathogens are introduced into nurseries and how they persist. Researchers also hope to improve detection and help nursery workers prevent the spread of the pathogens.

Melody Putnam, chief diagnostician at OSU’s Plant Clinic, said one of the problems with battling the pathogens is that they are difficult to recognize. The symptoms of Rhodococcus, for example, resemble the effect of using too much growth regulator, she said.

“The growers might not know they have them until it’s too late, and they get unpleasant surprise,” Putnam said.

Team member Jeff Chang, a biologist, said plant breeders develop varieties to resist disease, but the bacteria sidestep that defense.

“All the pathogen has to do is lose the molecules the plant recognizes,” Chang said.

“What we’re fighting is evolution,” he said. “Organisms adapt to change.”

Other OSU research team members include plant pathologist Niklaus Grunwald, chemist Taifo Mahmud, Extension nursery specialist Luisa Santamaria and Extension economist Clark Seavert.

Funding comes from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.


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