Controlling disease in our newest plant-based sector

Plant & Food Research is looking at ways to diagnose and manage a damaging plant disease affecting the medicinal cannabis industry.

The disease, caused by Hop Latent Viroid (HLVd), has been found in established cannabis-growing regions worldwide and can cause significant loss of yield. The first instance found in New Zealand was recently reported by Helius Therapeutics.

Plant & Food Research has worked with Helius to establish in New Zealand a laboratory test to identify the presence of HLVd in medicinal cannabis plant material, based on overseas knowledge.

A research programme is under way to investigate how the viroid spreads within and between plants so robust testing procedures can be developed for cultivators to identify infected plants and take action. Plans are being developed to identify real time, in-field test methods for the viroid and to identify potential methods for treating plant material to remove any viroid prior to cultivation.

“Early detection of a disease is a major factor in minimising its effects on a sector,” says Dr Richard Newcomb, Chief Scientist of Plant & Food Research.

“Hop latent viroid was first identified in cannabis in California in 2017, and has caused major issues for the local sector. By identifying the disease early in New Zealand we can work with the industry, and the associated hemp industry, to develop diagnostic and management techniques that work for the New Zealand sector.”

HLVd is a disease originally discovered in hops and has been present in New Zealand since the 1980s.

The disease affects some other plants of the Cannabaceae family, such as cannabis and hemp.

The viroid causes curling or yellowing of leaves, and can reduce the quality and quantity of flowers produced by the plant.

The viroid can affect different parts of the plant in different ways, and be present without the plant displaying symptoms. It is spread primarily by mechanical means, such as on pruning shears or other tools.

Source:  Plant and Food Research

Plant & Food Research to welcome its 300th summer student

Plant & Food Research will welcome its 300th summer student this week.

The Plant & Food Research Summer Studentship Programme began in the summer of 2008/2009 immediately after the Crown Research Institute was established. This year, 28 students will take part in the programme, bringing the total number of studentships to 328 over the ten-year period.

The Summer Studentship Programme creates a career experience for high calibre students studying science or related business subjects at undergraduate level. The students spend three months over the summer working on a specific project at one of Plant & Food Research’s 14 sites around the country.

The experience allows the students to build a better understanding of how real-world science is undertaken and provides them with insights into how a research organisations and industry work together.

This year’s students will study topics as diverse as intellectual property management, fish reproduction, fruit quality, plant physiology, pest and disease control, and machine learning.

“The summer student programme is a great experience for students wanting to understand more about research and the primary industries,” says Dr Richard Newcomb.

“Some of our past students have continued their science career with Plant & Food Research, or moved into roles with our industry partners. We welcome this year’s intake of students, and look forward to seeing what they achieve.”

Students from the University of Auckland, University of Otago, Massey University, Victoria University of Wellington, University of Waikato, University of Canterbury and Unitec are undertaking studentships over the summer period, at Plant & Food Research’s Mt Albert, Ruakura, Hawke’s Bay, Palmerston North, Nelson, Lincoln and Clyde Research Centres.

Source:  Plant & Food Research