September 12, 2010

Cornell Scientists Hope to Save New York Fruit Trees From Plum Pox

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As Cornell researchers work to eradicate the plum pox virus, things are looking more and more peachy for New York’s stone fruit harvest.Plum pox virus, also known as PPV, targets trees bearing stone fruit, including plum, nectarine, peach and apricot trees. The virus was first discovered in Ontario in 2000, prompting Cornell researchers to begin looking for the virus in the United States. With the first case being discovered in the U.S. in 2006, the virus quickly spread, affecting a peak of 20 trees discovered in 2007.The virus, which is transmitted by human production processes and aphid bugs, changes the color, shape, and quality of the fruit, making it unmarketable. According to Prof. Marc Fuchs, plant pathology, this does not pose a threat to health, but it poses a threat to the state economy.“If you were to eat a PPV infected peach, you wouldn’t be rushed to the emergency room,” he said.  “This is an economic issue.”Fuchs, who leads the University research on eradicating the virus,  noted that without the help of Cornell research and preventative steps taken starting in 2000, the virus would have most likely spread uncontrollably and decimated the state’s stone fruit population.Thanks to the work of Fuchs and his team, the number of infected trees has dwindled to two this season out of 225,000 trees tested.Fuchs says Cornell researchers have been working closely with the USDA and the New York State Department of Agriculture. These agencies collect the thousands of samples and deliver them to the lab. He says that both state and federal governments are providing financial compensation to farmers for removed trees which have tested positive. These agencies collect samples from a third of the stone fruit trees in the state every year.“Every three years, we are going through every tree, which is quite humongous when you think about it,” Fuchs said.Fuchs is confident that the virus will be eradicated within the next five years, based on the declining number of infected trees.“Based on the number of trees we’ve found, this program has been successful so far,” he said. “This is a foreign virus that we want to eradicate as quickly as possible.”

Original Author: Juan Forrer