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Crowdsourcing Science To Beat Psa

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In an effort to find a solution to the Psa epidemic, scientists at Plant & Food Research have shared the genome sequences of both kiwifruit and the Psa bacterium online for scientific collaborators globally to explore. It is anticipated that this extended collaboration will determine the underlying biology of Psa infection and identify breeding tools that can be used in the development of new controls options for the disease.

Both genomes are available on Plant & Food Research’s collaboration site, scinet.org.nz.

New Zealand produces around 30% of the globally traded volume of kiwifruit, but the crop has been in jeopardy since the discovery in 2010 of the disease-causing bacterium Psa. Since then, around 85% of kiwifruit orchards in New Zealand have become affected by the Psa disease.

“Crowdsourcing, most often used for sourcing funding for projects, is a powerful new tool available to the scientific community,” says Dr Zac Hanley, who led the project, originally initiated by Dr Roger Hellens. “Publishing in peer review journals allows scientists to share information, but there have been few projects that have been published in such a way that scientists from across the world can collaborate,” he says. “By making the genome of a plant available alongside that of the bacterium causing a major disease, we are hoping that the combined expertise of the entire science community will quickly be able to generate new ideas for research and identify new opportunities for formal collaboration to solve a very serious problem for kiwifruit growers worldwide.”

Pseudomonas syringae pv actinidiae (Psa) is a bacterial disease that affects kiwifruit. Present in Korea and Japan since the 1980s and Italy since 1992, Psa was discovered in New Zealand in 2010. Two strains of the bacterium have been identified in New Zealand orchards – a virulent strain (Psa-V), which can cause plant death, and a less virulent strain (Psa-LV) which can affect productivity. Plant & Food Research’s research programme aims to develop new management practices to control the disease and breed new cultivars with increased resistance to the disease. This research is funded through Zespri International Ltd, Kiwifruit Vine Health and the New Zealand government, as well as Plant & Food Research’s internal Core Funding.