The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded funding to the Lighting Research Center (LRC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to support new research that has the potential to address one of the grand challenges of this century—food security and the ability to sustainably feed a rapidly increasing world population.
Elegantly formulated fungicides and insecticides have been developed as fine tactical weapons to defend crops. Yet the intensity of agricultural production systems has driven the evolution of microbial and insect populations that have exhibited resistance to pesticides soon after deployment, and few new chemical classes are in development. Moreover, pesticides may leave undesirable residues on food crops, and may contaminate soil and aquatic systems.
UV lamps are widely used in water purification and microbiological sterilization, yet are not typically used for plant pathogen suppression. This is primarily due to a lack of understanding as to how much, how long and when light might be applied to control plant pathogens, and also due to the fact that there is no readily accessible, objective and authoritative source of technical support for end users.
The multidisciplinary team for this USDA-funded project—Dr. Mark Rea (PI) of the LRC, Dr. David Gadoury of Cornell University, and Dr. Natalia Peres of the University of Florida—has pioneered research on novel uses of light to suppress plant pathogens across a broad range of specialty crops, and in recent field trials, has found that light treatments are more effective than the best available fungicides. Still, critical questions remain regarding optimal dosing, lamp life, and design of lighting arrays.
The U.S. strawberry crop represents an ideal system in which to test the use of light treatments as a model integrated pest management (IPM) system because strawberries are widely grown, and almost universally threatened by powdery mildew. The IPM system proposed by Rea, Gadoury, and Peres has the potential to be environmentally and economically important for growers.
The project team, including Dr. Jaimin Patel and Leora Radetsky of the LRC, will conduct translational experiments that address all remaining barriers to the use of light treatments for strawberry as a model IPM system. The team will also educate growers and other stakeholders on how to apply the research in their operations by hosting field days, and deploying extension materials, including videos.
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