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Lesley Torrance

Staff picture: Lesley Torrance
Director of Science
Director of Science
+44 (0)344 928 5428 (*)

The James Hutton Institute
Dundee DD2 5DA
Scotland UK


Lesley is Director of Science at the James Hutton Institute and Professor of Biology at the University of St Andrews. She was President of the British Society for Plant Pathology (BSPP) in 2014.

Current research interests

Molecular biology of plant virus-host and virus-vector interactions

Aims: To understand the role and function of virus encoded proteins and their interactions in the pathogenicity and spread of plant virus diseases.

Background: Potato is an important crop in Scotland with around about 1.3 million tonnes of potatoes produced and 76,000 tonnes of seed exported to over 30 countries (outside the EU). Pests and diseases are a major constraint to the industry causing economic losses by decreased tuber yield and quality, and rejection of exports.

Soil-borne potato mop-top virus (PMTV) and aphid transmitted potyviruses (principally PVY) are economically important problems in potato seed crops that are difficult to control. No sources of resistance to PMTV have been identified in Solanum tuberosum and there are no reliable methods to control the spread of PMTV by the soil-borne plasmodiophorid vector Spongospora subterranea (that also causes powdery scab disease on potato tubers).

In addition, the application of insecticides to control the spread of aphid-borne potato potyviruses such as PVY is not effective. It is expected that aphid populations may build up earlier in the season and aphid-borne virus spread may increase because of the warmer temperatures predicted with environmental change.

Studying the molecular interactions between virus-host and virus-vector will provide a deeper understanding of the mechanisms of virus transmission and host resistance. The practical outputs of the work will be to identify new sources of resistance and more effective methods of disease control.

Current focus: Investigating a novel resistance to PVY (and other potyviruses) that we have discovered in Solanum tuberosum Group Phureja germplasm; the effect of heat stress on virus resistance and the molecular basis of mature plant resistance in potato.

Studies on the localisation and function of PMTV TGB movement proteins have revealed that PMTV infection includes a nuclear/nucleolar phase important for long distance movement in the vascular system and that the movement protein TGB1 determines nucleolar targeting and we are investigating a host factor that mediates nuclear association. In vitro culture of potato 'hairy root' systems have been established to investigate the molecular mechanism of vector transmission of PMTV.

Other research in the lab concerns working with partners in Africa to improve seed potato production systems and collaboration with Ziejiang Academy of Agricultural Sciences on soil-borne viruses.


Potato research meeting in Kenya

A meeting funded by a BBSRC GCRF Impact accelerator accounts award to the University of St Andrews was held in Nairobi on 11 November. The meeting highlighted recent research findings from predominantly BBSRC and RESAS funded research on virus resistance, heat tolerance and early maturity conducted by Mark Taylor, Lesley Torrance, Alison Roberts, Glenn Bryan and colleagues.

Delegates also heard about potato varieties suited to Kenyan growing conditions including varieties developed by James Hutton Ltd in collaborative breeding contracts. The meeting allowed networking of researchers, plant health officials, potato growers and industry with discussions on the needs of Kenyan potato farmers.

New collaboration


NSF/BBSRC Project on The spatial epidemiology of a vector-borne plant virus (PVY) with partners in USA led by Professor A Power, University of Cornell.

New developments

Mayan Gold potatoesThe potato cultivar Mayan Gold has passed national Perfomance Trials in Kenya and is approved for distribution to farmers. Mayan Gold has excellent properties that are beneficial for small holder rural farmers including PVY resistance, fast cooking time, good fry quality and good taste.

Our paper on distribution of pests and diseases in Kenyan potato growing regions has been published in Potato Research: Occurrence and distribution of potato pests and diseases in Kenya.

Strengthening Potato Production in SSA; Malawi and Kenya

Potato field trial at Bvumbwe Research StationMalawi: Working with partners Paul Demo, CIP potato seed specialist, Malawi and Felistus Chipungu, Department Agriculture Research Services, Bvumbwe Research Station.

This Scottish Government supported project aims to contribute to poverty reduction and food security through strengthening the development of sustainable potato production and marketing systems for improved productivity and trade. The main achievements to date are in renovation and upgrading facilities for mini tuber production, the introduction and evaluation of new cultivars and capacity building.

Field training in testing for bacterial wilt in MalawiIn collaboration with DARS, CIP and SASA, Edinburgh we delivered a training course in seed potato crop inspection, disease identification, and diagnostic in Dedza District of Malawi, 13–16 March 2012. Lesley Torrance and two senior potato seed inspectors (John Ellicott and Maureen McCreath) travelled from Scotland to Malawi for the training.

The course had 37 trainees from different organisations in Malawi involved in seed quality control, seed production, or in backstopping farmers. We conducted classroom and field work and surveyed local farmers’ fields. This year was a bad one for late blight with many crops destroyed or badly affected. Potato crops were also affected by PVY and bacterial wilt. We found recombinant strains of PVY in potato crops.

Scottish Government Funded Potato Project, Training Course, Near Dedza Pottery, Malawi, March 2012 from eric monaghan on Vimeo.

Kenya: The project is supported by The Monsanto Fund and we are working with partners Dr Hassan Were (Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, Kakamega), Dr J. Kabira, KARI Tigoni and Professor F. Olubayo (University of Nairobi).

Vales Sovereign potatoes sent to Kenya

The main outcomes of this project are:

  • A comprehensive pest and disease survey in all five major potato producing areas in Kenya.
  • Identification of areas of low aphid pressure for seed tuber multiplication.
  • Introduction of tissue culture microplants of 12 cultivars with different agronomic qualities to KARI Tigoni who have bulked up the material.

All introduced cultivars are growing well in the region. Sufficient material of three cultivars has been submitted for National Performance Trials and we are collaborating with the Kenyan National Potato Council to disseminate information and demonstrate the qualities of the new material in field trials.


  • Roberts, D.; Torrance, L.; Stirton, G.; Britton, A.J.; Craig, C.; Kyle, C-A.; Abel, C.; Macaulay, C.; Fielding, D.; Watson, H.; Pohle, I.; Robertson, J.; Maxwell, J.; Irvine, K.; Sutherland, L-A.; Dawson, L.A.; Shepherd, L.; Miller, P.; Ellis, R.; Richards, S.; Blok, V.; Hackett, C.; Kettle, H. (2018) Women in Science., The James Hutton Institute, 25pp.
  • Were, H. K.; Olubayo, F.M.; Kabira, J.; Aura, J.; Torrance, L. (2015) Aphids infesting potato in Kenya., In: Low, J., Nyongesa, M., Quinn, S. & Parker, M. (eds.). Potato and Sweetpotato in Africa: Transforming the Value Chains for Food and Nutrition Security. CAB International, Chapter 38, 396-404.
  • Tilsner, J.; Taliansky, M.E.; Torrance, L. (2014) Plant virus movement., In: Harper, D. (ed.). eLS, Encyclopedia of Life Sciences. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, Chichester, A20711.
  • Al-Mrabeh, A.; Anderson, E.A.; Torrance, L.; Evans, A.; Fenton, B. (2010) A literature review of insecticide and mineral oil use in preventing the spread of non-persistent viruses in potato crops., The Potato Council Ltd., Stoneleigh, 65pp.
  • Haupt, S.; Ziegler, A.; Cowan, G.H.; Torrance, L. (2009) Studies of the role and function of Barley stripe mosaic virus encoded proteins in replication and movement using GFP fusions., In: Hicks, B.W. (ed.). Viral Applications of Green Fluorescent Protein. Methods in Molecular Biology Volume 515. Springer, Berlin, Germany, Chapter 20, 287-297.
  • Torrance, L. (2008) Pomovirus., In: Mahy, W.J. & van Regenmortel, M. (eds.). Encyclopedia of Virology. 3rd edition. Elsevier, Amsterdam, 282-287
  • Taliansky, M.E.; Torrance, L. (2008) Plant virus movement., In: Harper, D. (ed.). Encyclopedia of Life Sciences. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, Chichester, A20711
  • Taliansky, M.E.; Torrance, L.; Kalinina, N.O. (2008) Role of plant virus movement proteins., In: Foster, G.D., Hong, G., Johansen, I.E. & Nagy, P.D. (eds.). Plant Virology Protocols: From Viral Sequence to Protein Function. 2nd edition. Humana Press, Totowa, New Jersey, pp33-54.
  • Haupt, S.; Ziegler, A.; Torrance, L. (2008) Localisation of viral proteins in plant cells: protein tagging., In: Foster, G.D., Johansen, I.E., Hong, Y. & Nagy, P.D. (eds.). Plant Virology Protocols: From Viral Sequence to Protein Function. 2nd edition. Humana Press, Totowa, New Jersey, pp463-473.
  • Torrance, L.; Koenig, R. (2004) Furovirus., In: Fauquet, C.M., Mayo, M.A., Maniloff, J., Desselberger, U. & Ball, L.A. (eds.). Virus Taxonomy, Classification and Nomenclature of Viruses. Elsevier, Amsterdam, pp1027-1032.
  • Torrance, L. (2004) Antibody and nucleic acid based techniques., In: Lapierre, H. & Signoret, P. (eds.). Virus diseases of Poaceae (Gramineae). INRA Editions, Paris, pp99-108.
  • Torrance, L. (2000) Genus Furovirus., In: Van Regenmortel, M.H.V., Fauquet, C. & Bishop, D.H.L (eds.). Virus Taxonomy, Seventh report of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. Harcourt International, pp904-908.
  • Harper, K.; Toth, R.L.; Mayo, M.; Torrance, L. (1999) Selection of anti-plant virus single chain variable fragments from phage display libraries., In: Ziegler, A. & Harper, K. (eds.). Recombinant antibodies-applications in plant science and plant pathology. Taylor & Francis, pp37-55.
  • D'Arcy, C.J.; Domier, L.L.; Torrance, L. (1999) Detection and diagnosis of luteoviruses., CABI Publishing, Wallingford.
  • Torrance, L. (1999) Pomoviruses (Pomovirus) 327., In: Webster, R.G. & Granoff, A. (eds.). Encyclopaedia of Virology. Second Edition, Academic Press, pp1361-1364.
  • Reavy, B.; Arif, M.; Torrance, L. (1998) Early detection of the fungus-transmitted virus, Potato mop-top virus.., In: Manceau, C. & Spak, J. (eds.). Advances in the Detection of Plant Pathogens by Polymerase Chain Reaction. Proceedings COST 823 Meeting, Ceske Budejovice, Czech Republic 1996, pp17-21.
  • Barker, H.; Torrance, L. (1997) Importance of Biotechnology for Germplasm Health and Quarantine., CAB International
  • Torrance, L. (1997) Developments in serological methods to detect and identify plant viruses., Kluwer Academic Publishers, London.

  • Taliansky, M.E.; Shaw, J.; Torrance, L. (2011) Role of the nucleolus in plant virus pathogenicity., Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute for 2010, pp42-43.
  • Torrance, L.; Toth, I.K.; Cooke, D.E.L.; Fenton, B.; Blok, V.C.; Lees, A.K. (2010) Risks of new or emerging pests and pathogens posed by environmental change., Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute for 2009, pp14-17.
  • Torrance, L. (2009) Plant pathology., Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute for 2008, pp27-31.
  • Torrance, L.; Cowan, G.H.; Haupt, S.; Ziegler, A. (2003) The role of Potato mop-top virus proteins in intracellular movement., Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute for 2002/2003, pp104-105.
  • Machray, G.C.; Brown, J.W.S.; Oparka, K.J.; Torrance, L. (2002) Mechanisms and Processes., Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute for 2001/2002, pp101-104.
  • Ziegler, A.; Reavy, B.; Cowan, G.H.; Mayo, M.A.; Torrance, L. (2000) Heterologous expression systems for the production of functional antibody fragments., Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute for 1998/99, pp139-141.
  • Torrance, L.; Ziegler, A.; Mayo, M.A.; Toth, I.K.; Blok, V.C.; Duncan, J.M. (2000) New technologies for the detection and identification of pathogens, pests and environmental pollutants.., Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute for 1999/2000, pp51-54.
  • Torrance, L.; Ziegler, A.; Harper, K.; Mayo, M.A. (1998) Engineered antibodies: readily adaptable tools for basic and applied research.., Annual Report of the Scottish Crop Research Institute for 1997/98, pp111-113.
  • Torrance, L.; Robinson, D.J. (1998) Tobacco rattle and potato mop-top viruses: the causes of spraing disease in potato tubers.,

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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.