Plants infected with the Neocosmospora vasinfecta fungus suffer symptoms such as chlorosis and wilting, and this has been known to cause peanut yield losses of more than 50 per cent in some areas. Widespread infections during the very wet 2011/2012 season are estimated to have cost the Australian peanut industry several million dollars.
Globally, little is known about the biology and characteristics of N. vasinfecta as a pathogen of peanuts, and there are currently no control options known. But that is set to change thanks to new research being undertaken by Ms Kylie Wenham at The University of Queensland’s (UQ) School of Agriculture and Food Sciences.
Ms Wenham received a GRDC Grains Industry Research Scholarship in 2014, to carry out lab and field trials on the pathogen as part of her PhD.
The scholarship is one of a portfolio of awards and scholarships offered by GRDC to build capacity for research and development to benefit the Australian grains industry.
Ms Wenham’s project aims to develop potential management options and strategies for the disease by answering questions about how N. vasinfecta is dispersed in the field, how infection takes hold in plants, and whether plant injury, nutritional deficiency, or abiotic stresses have an influence.
The research is also looking at how long and in what form N. vasinfecta survives in the soil, and whether it can survive for prolonged periods in stubble residues.
“We want to know what conditions are favourable for infecting peanut crops—for example, soil temperature or moisture levels,” she says. “It may also be the case that the presence of certain hosts—peanuts, other legumes, or cereals—may trigger growth and the multiplication in the soil.”
Ms Wenham is being supervised by a strong team of crop and pathology specialists, including Associate Professor Dr Vic Galea and Professor Wayne Bryden (UQ), Dr Mal Ryley (University of Southern Queensland), and Dr Graeme Wright from the Peanut Company of Australia (PCA).
Dr Wright says the research will have positive impacts internationally, as the disease has emerged recently in other countries such as China, Vietnam, and the United States.
“Once soil-borne diseases like Neocosmospora occur, they can be devastating,” Dr Wright says. “That’s why we need to know more about them.”
Outcomes of Ms Wenham’s GRDC-funded research, he says, could also assist in the development of a glasshouse screening method for the disease, which could be incorporated into a breeding program to produce peanut varieties with improved tolerance to the disease.
GRDC Project Code