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Sugar beet virus mutation requires Texas touch

The only sugar beets growing in Texas are in the laboratory. But those few plants are getting to the root of problems throughout the sugar beet industry.

The sugar beet industry moved out of Texas in 1997 after the close of the processing plant at Hereford. But the growing research program within Texas Agricultural Experiment Station's plant pathology lab here didn't die.

Just the opposite, said Dr. Charlie Rush, professor and director of the plant pathology labs in Bushland and Amarillo.

"We do all of our work in the greenhouse and laboratory," he said. "Here, we have to have an understanding of everything, from the crop growing in the field to the molecular aspects of the pathogen. That makes our program totally unique."

Outside research dollars began pouring in and Rush's program was reinvigorated in 2002 when a new strain of beet necrotic yellow vein virus emerged.

The new strain threatened sugar beet production in California and Minnesota. Getting answers was important because the affected area in California holds records for production and Minnesota boasts the most concentrated sugar beet growing region in the world, Rush said.

Beet necrotic yellow vein virus, which causes the disease known as rhizomania, was found near Hereford in 1986 by a California researcher. A similar virus, beet soil borne mosaic virus, also was found about the same time.

The two viruses are closely related, Rush said. But rhizomania is devastating and found worldwide, while the mosaic virus is not as destructive and is limited to the United States.

Growers, breeders and industry officials from Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, Minnesota, Michigan and North Dakota began looking to Texas and Rush for help.

They would see rhizomania in isolated spots in a few fields, but within a few years, it would spread across entire production areas, Rush said. His team responded by studying the ecological and epidemiological asp
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Source:Texas A&M University - Agricultural Communications


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