Using Modern Lab Software to Understand the Impact of Climate Change on Plant Disease

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Retreating glaciers are only one symptom of global climate change. Image Source: Flickr User Ian D. Keating

Retreating glaciers are only one symptom of global climate change. Image Source: Flickr User Ian D. Keating

Climate change is having a profound effect on the environment, and not just the ice caps or glaciers. The way that disease vectors behave changes as temperatures shift, an effect that extends beyond human and animal disease into agricultural pathogens. For example, the cavendish banana is currently dealing with a rampant blight that has the potential to wipe out the entirety of that monocrop. In recent research, scientists investigated the effect of climate change on the spread and manifestation of Pierce’s disease on grapevines.1 Assessing the correlation between climate and vector behavior is best done using innovative lab software that has integrated programs for everything from raw data input to data analysis across numerous facilities.

Plant Pathogens

As the population grows, food production becomes a more prominent concern. Unfortunately, farmers worldwide are seeing a rise in plant pathogens and pests. Often, pests are the vectors that carry the pathogens around, compounding the issue. Many of the pathogens that are currently affecting plants are different varieties of fungi, bacteria and protozoa. A few of current food pathogens are:

  • Panama Disease (a.k.a. Fusarium fungus). This fungus attacks the root of the Cavendish banana, spreading through the soil. Unfortunately, the spores produced by this deadly fungus may survive in the soil for decades, rendering the farmland useless. The Cavendish banana, which is primarily a monocrop, makes up 47% of the bananas worldwide, with Ecuador as the largest exporter. If a solution isn’t found soon, it is possible that these bananas will be wiped out almost entirely.2 Innovative computer software can be deployed to track the loss of farmland and track the fungus’ progress.
  • Stem Rust (a.k.a. TTTTF). Although everyone seems to be concerned about gluten these days, wheat is still an essential and beneficial crop for most people. A recently discovered strain of this fungus is unusually devastating and has been reported to infect even the most hardy varieties of wheat in a laboratory setting. Although we don’t yet see it as much in North America, wheat loss dramatically affects the economic climate in countries throughout the world.3
  • Bacterial Streak. Last year, brownish-red bacterial streaks on the leaves of corn in Texas Panhandle corn crops was observed. The lesions it caused varied in length, from half an inch to several inches and were translucent when held up to the light. Although the effects were inconsequential, with no indication that this disease will impact yield or quality of the crops, it still merits further investigation and observation. Bacterial strains can mutate quickly, and corn would be a crucial crop to lose.4 This is a great time for computer monitoring via modern lab software. If this bacteria is caught at the onset and discovery of a pathogen, genotyping can be conducted and tracked as the bacteria mutates.
  • Pierce’s Disease (a.k.a. Xylella fastidiosa). This bacteria is a deadly disease of grapevines that is prevalent in the USA, Central America and South America. It acts on the vines by affecting the xylem, blocking the conduction of water throughout the plant. It is spread by xylem feeding leafhoppers, known as sharpshooters.5

With the recent rapid and colossal changes in climate, these pathogens may also alter and shift their virulence and mode of infection. By tracking and pooling data from multiple sites on one common, comprehensive computer platform, researchers may be able to crack the code to prevent future plant pathogen related food shortages.

Vector behavior, temperatures and plant symptoms can all be tracked using innovative lab software. By tracking these factors across numerous sites, there is the potential for researchers to better understand the pathogens that affect agriculture and plan to mitigate them.

BIOVIA Electronic Laboratory Notebooks can assist researchers in reducing time spent looking for data by 50% and improve productivity by 25% while removing all non-value added manual activities and errors. Food shortages are a worldwide concern and will continue to be one for the foreseeable future. In the coming years, there will be more outbreaks of plant pathogens may threaten a crucial food, or a favourite food like the Cavendish banana. Make sure your lab is well prepared to research these pathogens and battle against them. Please contact us today to learn more about how our software options can support the efforts of your lab.

  1. “Conflicting Effects  of Climate and Vector Behaviour on the Spread of a Plant Pathogen,” April 28. 2017, http://apsjournals.apsnet.org/doi/10.1094/PBIOMES-01-17-0004-R
  2. “The imminent death fo the Cavendish banana and why it affects us all,” January 24, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-35131751
  3. “Deadly new wheat disease threatens Europe’s crops,” February 2, 2017, http://www.nature.com/news/deadly-new-wheat-disease-threatens-europe-s-crops-1.21424
  4. “New bacterial pathogen found in corn in Texas,” October 17, 2016, https://phys.org/news/2016-10-bacterial-pathogen-corn-texas.html
  5.  “About Pierce’s Disease,”  http://www.piercesdisease.org/