A team of researchers is looking to uncover the mysterious cause of a new disease damaging blueberry fields across the province.
Over the last few years, farmers have tested plants showing symptoms of disease for blueberry scorch and other diseases. However, more and more plants are testing negative while symptoms persist, leaving producers unsure how to protect their fields.
But on August 22, researchers announced plans for a two-year project funded by Genome BC and the BC Blueberry Council to identify what’s behind this latest hurdle to yields and profitability.
“In 2020, for instance, 18% of samples from damaged plants tested negative for both the blueberry scorch virus and blueberry shock virus,” says SFU associate professor of biology and project lead Jim Mattsson. “We need to know what is affecting these blueberry bushes to find out how to reduce the spread of disease.”
As part of the research team, the BC Blueberry Council is working with its partners to determine the cause of the new disease, interpret the results and facilitate knowledge transfer initiatives.
“The real practical deliverable is that through this work we are identifying new strains of the known viruses, shock and scorch. And then we’re also identifying at least one of the new viruses that we have found in the Pacific Northwest,” says BC Blueberry Council research director Eric Gerbrandt. “We have found a pretty widespread presence of a new virus that may be contributing to disease, but we don’t really know how it interacts with the known viruses and whether or not it actually contributes to disease.”
Once the cause is determined, the team will work with North Saanich’s Phyto Diagnostics Co. Ltd. to develop a diagnostic test for the new virus using genomic information, Genome BC says.
“We are looking to work with Phyto Diagnostics to update their diagnostic tools so that we can more effectively figure out what diseases are present in each plant out there in the field,” Gerbrandt says.