Environment & Science

UC Riverside awarded $9 million grant to combat tomato-killing virus

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded UC Riverside a $9 million grant to combat a microbe that kills tomato and potato crops. The five-year study will try to figure out how to shield crops from a disease known as “late blight.”

UC Riverside plant pathologist Howard Judelson calls the disease a “global problem” with devastating consequences. The plant pathogen is blamed for the 19th century potato famine in Ireland.

Here in California, the disease creeps into the Central Valley during the winter. Infected plants break out in dark lesions. “Late blight” can kill off tomato and potato fields within a week.

Judelson will coordinate anti-“late blight” research with a team of scientists, biologists and economists from 16 universities and research facilities. Research will emphasize better strategies for managing the disease – and techniques for growing more resistant plant varieties. Researchers will also use social media and smartphone technology to communicate with growers battling the pathogen.