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UT Tyler Biology Professor Investigates Potato Epidemic

June 27, 2007

Healthy and diseased potatoes

A healthy (left) and diseased potato for comparison.

Dr. Blake Bextine, assistant professor of biology at The University of Texas at Tyler, has received a second year of funding to continue research on a disease that affects potatoes, Dr. Alisa White, UT Tyler College of Arts and Sciences interim dean, announced.

A $65,436 research grant was awarded from the Texas Potato Growers and Frito Lay. The single-year award will assist in Bextine’s continued efforts to investigate several lines of evidence to identify the causal agent of Zebra Chip.

“The disease, which has caused a potato epidemic in the southern United States and Mexico, causes foliar symptoms which include stunting, chlorosis and swollen nodes causing a ‘zig-zag’ appearance of the upper growth,” said Bextine. “Chips made from the affected plants have a severe dark brown streaking defect, hence the name ‘zebra chip.’”

Both graduate and undergraduate students will take active roles in the research, including generating and implementing ideas, he added.

“A large part of the budget goes to undergraduate salaries to help support their studies,” Bextine said.

In a large collaborative effort, Bextine and others have followed multiple lines of evidence and developed a management plan based on research results which improved this year’s harvest.

Bextine has developed research objectives for 2007-08, which support both short-term and long-term management strategies.

“Our immediate responsibility is to the potato growers in the state of Texas, so our short-term objective will be to identify the pests or pathogens which should be targeted in the near future to suppress the current ZC epidemic, assisting the growers in managing the situation,” Bextine said.

The information gathered will allow potato growers to minimize losses due to ZC by focusing on monitoring and management efforts of the insect pest.

According to Bextine, identification of the putative causal agent of ZC also would provide a target for short-term control tactics. While short-term management of ZC will assist growers now, successful completion of the other objectives and further increasing the understanding of mechanisms by which this insect induces ZC symptoms will be needed; however, to help develop better and sustainable management strategies for this disease.

“Recent advancements in technology allow us to examine the details of the disease process with high sensitivity relative to traditional methods. Over the past year, we have developed technologies for use in the ZC system and plan to put this knowledge to work this year,” Bextine said.

One of the 15 campuses of the UT System, UT Tyler offers excellence in teaching, research, artistic performance and community service. More than 70 undergraduate and graduate degrees are available at UT Tyler, which has an enrollment of nearly 6,000 high-ability students at its campuses in Tyler, Longview and Palestine.

Hannah Buchanan
The University of Texas at Tyler
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