Cornell breeder develops tomato variety that deters thrips and their viruses

A tomato that packs a powerful one-two punch to deter thrips and counter the viruses they transmit has been developed by a Cornell University breeder, Martha Mutschler-Chu.

The work is reported by ScienceDaily here.

After successfully transferring resistance to thrips into new tomato lines and breeding out undesirable traits, Mutschler-Chu’s team added a second layer of protection: one or both of two natural genes known to resist the so-called TOSPO viruses, which include tomato spotted wilt virus.

If some thrips get through with the virus, the virus resistance will mop it up, she said.

The Cornell thrips-resistant tomato lines, with and without the virus resistance genes, will be used by Mutschler-Chu and an interdisciplinary team of eight other scientists from seven other institutions nationwide as part of a new five-year, $3.75 million project to control thrips and TOSPO viruses in tomatoes.

The project is funded by the US Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative and is led by entomologist Diane Ullman of the University of California, Davis, and plant pathologist John Sherwood of the University of Georgia.

The varieties will be tested in different regions and the feedback used to further refine Mutschler-Chu’s lines and create new, improved ones.

She wants to find the best package for insect and virus control, sharing her discoveries with seed companies so they can transfer the traits into their varieties.

“It brings us closer and closer to something that can be used commercially to essentially eliminate the need for pesticides in many growing regions,” Mutschler-Chu said.

The project rests on a foundation that was built over 20 years, supported by college-level funding and federal HATCH grants. During that time, new tools of molecular biology were developed, from PCR-based markers and SNP markers to the sequencing of the tomato genome. Using the new methods, it took Mutschler-Chu 10 years to develop the first tomato line with enough acylsugar, then four years to create a better series of 30 lines.

She said the impact could be far-reaching, benefiting not only the US agricultural economy but also the developing world, where tomatoes are among the most popular vegetable cash crops, especially for small subsistence farmers who don’t have the resources to buy pesticides or misuse them.

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