Dr. Jean Ristaino was principal investigator and Dr. Linda Hanley-Bowdoin was co-principal investigator for the recent collaborative conference “Emerging Infectious Plant Diseases of Africa in the Context of Ecosystem Services.” The international conference took place April 8 to 12 at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Conference Center in Bellagio, Italy. Attending were 19 participants who worked to develop a strategy to mitigate impacts of emerging plant diseases in sub-Saharan Africa.
Ristaino and Hanley-Bowdoin are faculty members in N.C. State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Ristaino is a William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor in the CALS Department of Plant Pathology. Hanley-Bowdoin is a William Neal Reynolds Professor of biochemistry in the Department of Molecular and Structural Biochemistry.
Plant diseases caused by Phytophthora species present major limitations to food security in the developing world. Late blight on potato caused by Phytophthora infestans caused the Irish famine, and Phytophthora species also limit production of cacao, taro and horticultural crops. Phytophthora is easily spread through international trade of plant materials and via airborne spores. Since plant pathogens do not carry passports nor recognize national borders, having a network of well-trained network of plant diagnosticians around the world benefits agriculture in the United States and abroad.
The international team led a diagnostic workshop in Honduras attended by 21 plant disease diagnosticians from six Latin American countries. Technologies for conducting rapid and accurate diagnostic assays for Phytophthora in plant and water samples under real-world working conditions were taught over four lab-intensive days. Students learned basic pure culture methods for isolating Phytophthora, morphological identification techniques, and state-of-the-art molecular diagnostics assays including PCR, ELISA and DNA sequences to identify species. The workshop was held at Zamorano University, which also hosts the Horticulture Innovation Lab Regional Center.
This was the second in a series of plant disease diagnostic workshops held in Latin America. The first workshop, also funded by USAID through the Horticulture Innovation Lab, was held in June 2010 and formed the basis of the Latin American Phytophthora Diagnostic Network,a network of well-trained plant disease diagnosticians throughout the region. Further workshops are planned for Southeast Asia and Africa.
With funding from USAID, the Horticulture Innovation Lab builds international partnerships—like this one between NC State plant pathologists and Latin American scientists—for fruit and vegetable research to improve livelihoods in developing countries.