A new research project that may help future-proof the kiwifruit industry has received a Fast Start Marsden grant.
The project, led by Dr Jay Jayaraman at Plant & Food Research and titled: How do new pathogen incursions evolve during host infection, will investigate the plant pathogen PSA (Pseudomonas syringae pv actinidiae), to understand how it evolves during infection of the kiwifruit plant.
PSA caused severe damage in New Zealand’s kiwifruit crops after its discovery in 2010. While the industry recovered, thanks to a new cultivar with improved disease tolerance, exploring alternative ways to manage the disease in future is still essential, particularly given the possibility that PSA could adapt to the new cultivar.
PSA causes disease by secreting proteins that suppress the kiwifruit plant’s immune response. Much like in the human immune system, the kiwifruit plant identifies and responds to the pathogen, catalysing a backwards and forwards arm’s race.
“A deep understanding of the interaction between the kiwifruit plant and the pathogen PSA could enable future targeted natural breeding to produce a PSA resistant commercial cultivar, eliminating the need for chemical controls,” said Dr Jayaraman.
Using next-generation DNA sequencing this research project will investigate the mechanisms behind the evolution of the PSA pathogen and deliver insights into the influence of host selection and how pathogens evolve during pandemics. It will look at PSA on a range of kiwifruit cultivars ranging from susceptible to resistant.
The Marsden Fund, managed by the Royal Society Te Apārangi on behalf of the New Zealand government, supports New Zealand’s best investigator-initiated research in the areas of science, engineering, maths, social sciences and the humanities. This project is one of two Plant & Food Research Marsden grants for this round.