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FFAR Grant Combats Disease in Lettuce Crops

Davis, CA (August 23, 2023) – Impatiens Necrotic Spot Virus (INSV) is a highly contagious plant virus that causes crop losses worldwide. While the virus affects a wide range of crops, it is currently threatening lettuce production. To address this growing threat, the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) awarded a $99,000 Rapid Outcomes from Agricultural Research (ROAR) program grant to the University of California (UC), Davis to increase crops’ resistance to INSV. The California Leafy Greens Research Board (CLGRB) and UC Davis provided matching funds for a $198,000 total investment.

“Mitigating the spread of INSV is critical for lettuce producers,” said Dr. Angela Records, FFAR’s chief scientific officer. “This research will lead to lettuce varieties that control the virus’ spread, ensure the long-term sustainability of this important food crop and protect farmers’ livelihoods.”

INSV is transmitted by tiny insects that feed on plants and can spread the virus as they move from plant to plant. The virus causes a range of symptoms in lettuce plants, including yellowing, stunting and dead spots on the leaves. Led by Dr. Richard Michelmore, UC Davis researchers are identifying and deploying multiple genes for resistance to increase durability and slow the evolution and spread of resistance-breaking strains of INSV.

The virus’ severity has recently increased, causing $100 million in losses in 2020 alone. INSV is threatening winter production areas in southern California and Arizona as the disease is exacerbated by warm weather and increasing pest populations potentially caused by climate change. California is one of the largest lettuce-producing states and INSV poses significant risks to California farmers and the U.S. lettuce industry, valued at more than $2 billion annually. The identification of genes for resistance and breeding resistant varieties is vital for protecting farmers’ profitability and maintaining a robust food production system.

“Support from the ROAR program and CLGRB is allowing us to focus on efficient screening of germplasm for resistance and development of tools for rapid breeding of resistant varieties,” said Dr. Michelmore.

FFAR’s ROAR program rapidly funds research and outreach in response to emerging or unanticipated threats to U.S. food supply or agricultural systems.

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