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Troy, N.Y. -  10/9/2018

USDA Awards Funding for Light and Plant Health Research to the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer

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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About the Lighting Research Center
The Lighting Research Center (LRC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is the world's leading center for lighting research and education. Established in 1988 by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), the LRC conducts research in solid-state lighting, light and health, transportation lighting and safety, energy efficiency, and plant pathology. LRC lighting scientists with multidisciplinary expertise in research, technology, design, and human factors, collaborate with a global network of leading manufacturers and government agencies, developing innovative lighting solutions for projects that range from the Boeing 787 Dreamliner to U.S. Navy submarines to hospital neonatal intensive-care units. In 1990, the LRC became the first university research center to offer graduate degrees in lighting and today, offers a M.S. in lighting and a Ph.D. to educate future leaders in lighting. With 35 full-time faculty and staff, 15 graduate students, and a 30,000 sq. ft. laboratory space, the LRC is the largest university-based lighting research and education organization in the world.

About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, founded in 1824, is America's first technological research university. The university offers bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in engineering; the sciences; information technology and web sciences; architecture; management; and the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Rensselaer faculty advance research in a wide range of fields, with an emphasis on biotechnology, nanotechnology, computational science and engineering, data science, and the media arts and technology. The Institute has an established record of success in the transfer of technology from the laboratory to the marketplace, fulfilling its founding mission of applying science "to the common purposes of life."