Modifying Rootstocks to Fight, Prevent Pierce’s Disease

Scientists Help Grapevines Double-team Pierce’s Disease

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

 

The glassy-winged sharpshooter is a flying insect that vectors a fatal grapevine malady known as Pierce’s Disease. Scientists are conducting volumes of research to fight this insect and reduce disease infection on vines. Moreover, scientists are studying methods to prevent the spread of Pierce’s Disease on winegrapes in California entirely.

California grapevine rootstock
California grapevine

Ken Freeze is the outreach coordinator for the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) Pierce’s Disease Glassy-winged Sharpshooter Board (PD/GWSS) as well as an account director at Brown-Miller Communications. On behalf of the PD/GWSS Board, Freeze communicates with winegrape growers who pay the Board an assessment to conduct research. Freeze explained ongoing research and how research funds are being spent.

FIGHTING PIERCE’S DISEASE

Could introducing pectin into grapevines, help prevent that bacteria, Xylella fastidiosa, from entering the vine? Freeze said, in a recent field trial, “scientists found five different genes that when placed in a rootstock, put either a molecule or a protein up into an unmodified scion that in one way basically stops the bacteria from moving around,” he said.

“For instance, one of the genes comes from the pear,” said Freeze. “I think we’re all familiar with pectin. A lot of plants produce pectin naturally; grapevines are not one of them. By modifying a rootstock with this pear gene, when the bug comes and injects the bacteria into the plant, the pectin literally gums it up and it can’t move around.”

An unmodified plant injected with bacteria by the glassy-winged sharpshooter, turns to another strategy. “When the bacteria population reaches a certain point, [the plant] releases a protein that causes the bad bacteria to stop moving around. However, in grapevines, it is too late when that signal comes; the plant is already dead. By modifying the rootstock to automatically generate that same protein when the bacteria enters the plant, the bacteria shuts down,” said Freeze.

winegrapes fight Pierce's Disease
Winegrapes

Freeze said scientists are seeing that these strategies are working quite well. “What scientists are actually doing now is stacking these genes, two by two, in the rootstock. Now each root will produce two different ways to shut down the bacteria. If for some reason in the future the bacteria figures out a way to overcome one of those ways, chances are it won’t figure out how to overcome both of them.”

PREVENTING PIERCE’S DISEASE

Dr. Andy Walker, a UC Davis professor and geneticist in the Department of Viticulture and Enology, has been working for years on rootstock that could block Pierce’s Disease from entering the vine. “He’s already released 14 different varieties to the Foundation Plant Services as well as three different rootstock that are resistant to Pierce’s Disease,” said Freeze. “The best varieties will be released to nurseries probably next year. Then from there [nurseries will] basically start growing them and taking orders from winegrowers.”

Freeze noted that other field trials are continuing. “We have field trials for a benign strain of Pierce’s Disease. It is like giving plants a smallpox vaccination, only it is the bacteria. That is on its way to commercialization. In the future, you might actually order your new vines from the nursery pre-infected with the bacteria that would normally cause [Pierce’s Disease]. But in this case, it will not cause it,” said Freeze.


CDFA Pierce’s Disease Glassy-winged Sharpshooter Board (PD/GWSS)

CDFA Pierce’s Disease Glassy-winged Sharpshooter Board (PD/GWSS) Interactive Forum

CDFA Pierce’s Disease Control Program

UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology

UC Davis Foundation Plant Services

Jamming Leafhopper Signals

Jamming Leafhopper Signals to Reduce Insect Populations that Vector Plant Disease

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

 

 

An innovative team of researchers at the San Joaquin Valley Agricultural Sciences Center, USDA Agricultural Research Services (ARS) in Parlier Calif., are trying to confuse leafhopper communication in hopes of reducing certain devastating plant diseases. Of particular interest is the glassy-winged sharpshooter, a large leafhopper that can vector or spread the bacteria Xylella fastidiosa from one plant to another which causes devastating plant diseases such as Pierce’s disease in grapes and almond leaf scorch

 

Dr. Rodrigo Krugner, a research entomologist on the USDA-ARS Parlier team since 2007, explained, “We started on this glassy-winged sharpshooter communication project about two years ago. These insects use substrate-borne vibrations, or sounds, to talk to, identify and locate each other; actually do courtship; and then mate,” Krugner said.

Click here to hear LEAFHOPPER SOUNDS!

Glassywinged Sharp Shooter
Glassywinged Sharp Shooter

 

“This area of research started probably 40, or 50 years ago with development of a commercially-available laser doppler vibrometer (LDV), a scientific instrument used to make non-contact vibration measurements of a surface,” Krugner said. “Commonly used in the automotive and aerospace engineering industries, the LDV enabled an entomologist to listen to and amplify leafhoppers communicating,” Krugner said. “We’ve been doing recordings in the laboratory, learning about their communication with the idea of breaking, or disrupting, that communication. Once we disrupt that, we can disrupt mating and thereby reduce their numbers in vineyards and among other crops.”

 

Krugner noted the research team is evaluating two different approaches: one is to discover signals that disrupt their communication, and the other is lure them away from crops or towards a trap. “We may be looking at female calls, for example. An analogous system would be the pheromones, or long-range attraction volatile chemicals released by female lepidoptera, to attract males.” However, since leafhoppers use only sound, Krugner said, “We’re trying to come up with signals to disrupt their mating communication. We’re also looking at signals to jam their frequency range, 4000-6000 Hz, so they cannot hear each other,” Kruger said. “We’re also looking at signals that can be used to aggregate them, or lure them, into one section of a crop, or maybe repel them from the crop. These are all different approaches that we’re investigating right now.”

 

Krugner explained, “Researchers are attempting to perfect the disruptive sounds in order to do the things we need—to actually implement a management strategy for disrupting not only glassy-winged sharpshooter, but anything in a vineyard that actually communicates using vibrational communication. We know what they are saying to each other, which is very important. In the laboratory, the signals that we have look promising in disrupting the communication of these insects, so we’re taking them into the field.

 

Current mating disruption trials are underway in Fresno State vineyards. “We’re going to finish that research, hopefully, next year,” said Krugner, adding, “usually, fieldwork takes two to three years to show something.”


(Featured photo:  Rodrigo Krugner, research entomologist, USDA-ARS, Parlier)