For decades, scientists and farmers have attempted to understand how a bacterial pathogen continues to damage tomatoes despite numerous agricultural attempts to control its spread.
Pseudomonas syringae pv. tomato is the causative agent of bacterial speck disease of tomato (Solanum lycopersicum), a disease that occurs worldwide and causes severe reduction in fruit yield and quality, particularly during cold and wet springs.
In the spring of 2010, for example, an outbreak in Florida and California devastated the harvest in those areas.
"There is not much that can be done from a farming standpoint," said Boris Vinatzer, associate professor of plant pathology, physiology and weed science, and an affiliated faculty member with the Fralin Life Science Institute at Virginia Tech. "First, farmers try to use seed that is free of the pathogen to prevent disease outbreaks. Then, there are some disease-resistant tomato cultivars, but the pathogen has overcome this resistance by losing the gene that allowed these resistant plants to recognize it and defend themselves. For the rest, there are pesticides but the pathogen has become resistant against them."
So how exactly has the pathogen evolved to consistently evade eradication efforts? This is where science steps in, and a copy of the bacterial pathogen's game plan is crucial.
Thanks to the collaborative work of Vinatzer, Virginia Bioinformatics Institute computer scientist Joao Setubal, assistant professor of statistics Scotland Leman, and their students, the genome of several Pseudomonas syrinage pv. tomato isolates have been sequenced in order to track the bacterial pathogen's ability to overcome plant defenses and to develop methods to prevent further spread.
Their findings were recently published in the Aug. 25 issue of PLoS Pathogens, a peer reviewed
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