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Research underway to unravel causes of blackleg

Blackleg-affected potato plants (c) James Hutton Institute
Although Scottish seed potato production remains free from Dickeya solani, we can’t afford to be complacent about the related pathogen Pectobacterium atrosepticum.

Researchers at the James Hutton Institute and partner organisations are working to understand how seed potato becomes infected with Pectobacterium atrosepticum, the pathogen that causes blackleg; a disease that has been one of the most significant worries for potato growers across Europe in the past 10 years.

Speaking at the Scottish Society for Crop Research (SSCR) Potato Winter Meeting about a recently commissioned project that aims to identify how and when early field generations become infected, Professor Ian Toth, research leader at the James Hutton Institute said:

“Although Scottish seed potato production remains free from the blackleg causing pathogen Dickeya solani, which is causing major problems in mainland Europe, we can’t afford to be complacent about the related pathogen Pectobacterium atrosepticum which also causes blackleg. This pathogen is present across Europe, including Scotland, and has been particularly troublesome over the last few years.”

Professor Toth argued that the increase in blackleg has coincided with, but may not be caused by, a series of very wet growing seasons, the removal of sulphuric acid as a means of haulm destruction and increasing consolidation within the industry, resulting in fewer but bigger businesses growing a wider range of cultivars.

“It is clear from growing crop inspection returns that blackleg is strongly influenced by disease incidence in the preceding seed crop,” he continued. “It is therefore concerning that blackleg can be found in pre-basic crops as early as the second field-grown generation. More so when considering that disease incidence, in general, will rise steeply to a plateau in subsequent generations once initial infection has occurred.”

The new £300,000 three-year project to investigate blackleg is funded by the Potato Council and Scottish Government.

Also at the meeting, which took place at the James Hutton Institute in Dundee on 24 March, speakers from the James Hutton Institute and SASA (Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture) touched on subjects related to breeding of new potato varieties, as well as pests and diseases that affect the crop.

Dr Csaba Hornyik discussed work leading towards the identification of genes for tuber shape formation and eye depth development; while Dr Ankush Prashar and Dr Alison Bennett analysed the influence of drought and mycorrhizal fungi in cultivated potato. Dr Andy Vinten examined the performance of sediment fences for erosion control, and the potential of the grain aphid as a new vector threat to potato crops was reviewed by Dr Brian Fenton and Gaynor Malloch.

A presentation was made by Vanessa Young (Mylnefield Research Services) on molecular marker development and its application to potato breeding programmes. This work is a collaboration between MRS and the James Hutton Institute’s Potato Genetics group, and involves work by Karen McLean, Finlay Dale, Csaba Hornyik, Ankush Prashar and Glenn Bryan.

On behalf of SASA, Dr Gerry Sadler spoke about the Scottish and UK approaches to controlling potato blackleg, and Dr John Kerr explained the new EU seed potato classification scheme and potential options for its implementation in Scotland.

Notes to editors:

The Scottish Society for Crop Research supports knowledge exchange between science and industry through field events and meetings, science-based publications and research on topics of particular relevance to industry. It is run by a Committee of Management and its activities delivered through sub-committees on soft fruit, potato and combinable crops. See sscr.hutton.ac.uk for further information.

More information from: 

Bernardo Rodriguez-Salcedo, Media Manager, Tel: +44 (0)1224 395089 (direct line), +44 (0)344 928 5428 (switchboard) or +44 (0)7791 193918 (mobile).

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Printed from /news/research-underway-unravel-causes-blackleg on 22/07/19 10:12:57 PM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.