Plant pathologist at Penn State to aid NASA study on pathogen dispersal

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A plant pathologist in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences is supporting a multi-institutional research project designed to help track the spread of a plant pathogen.

Sharifa Crandall, assistant professor of soilborne disease ecology, joins scientists from lead institution Cornell University and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the study, which will focus on predicting the aerial spread of Fusarium oxysporum, a soilborne fungus with more than 100 known hosts.

Sharifa Crandall, assistant professor of soilborne disease ecology, in the Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology. Credit: Penn State / Penn StateCreative Commons

Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cubense, the causal agent of banana wilt, is difficult to control, and severe infections can be lethal to crops. Infectious spores of this species have been identified in dust samples that have traveled by wind from Africa to the Western Hemisphere, Crandall noted.

“Many soilborne plant pathogens can travel with dust particles across oceans and continents to infect crops thousands of miles from their origin,” Crandall said. “Crop diseases are a major problem for food security worldwide, especially in regions where limited access to surveillance systems can make disease management difficult.”

The dispersal model for this research will combine satellite imagery, global aerosol trajectories, environmental variables and fungal trait information to determine pathogen dispersal and germination risk.

“Remote sensing can help mitigate the impacts of plant disease on the global food supply,” said lead researcher Kaitlin Gold, assistant professor of grape pathology at Cornell University.

Using remote-sensing measurements and products, the investigators will be able to map the current distribution of susceptible cropland, determine how it overlaps with dust sink and source regions, and predict how the relationship may change under varying climate change scenarios.

The scientists will integrate microbial trait information into their susceptibility assessment and aerosol-transport models to better understand long-distance soilborne pathogen movement and survival. Their goals are to develop a robust model for global dispersion and survival of soilborne plant pathogen spores on aerosolized soil particles.

The scientists received a $750,000 grant from NASA for the study.


Last Updated October 26, 2020