Published on 07/05/19

UGA Cotton Team studying potentially damaging disease

By Clint Thompson

Scientists from the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Scientists are investigating the epidemiology of cotton leaf roll dwarf virus (CLRDV) in Georgia using a $75,000 grant jointly funded by the Georgia Cotton Commission and Cotton Incorporated.

CLRDV is known to cause cotton blue disease (CBD), which can reduce yields up to 80% in cotton fields infected in early growth stages. Symptoms include leaf curling and reddening and drooping leaves.

“This research will help us generate knowledge about the virus and its spread, symptomatology, host range, vectors dynamics and the associated yield loss,” said Sudeep Bag, an assistant professor on the UGA Tifton campus who specializes in crop virology. “This will further assist us in developing management practices to mitigate the disease.”

Bag, along with other members of the UGA Cotton team — breeder Peng Chee, agronomist Mark Freeman, plant pathologist Bob Kemerait, entomologist Phillip Roberts and agronomist Jared Whitaker — are collaborating with UGA Cooperative Extension agents across Georgia to gauge the severity of the spread of the disease in the state.

In fall 2018, the virus was detected in cotton fields in 14 Georgia counties, including Baker, Ben Hill, Bulloch, Crisp, Colquitt, Dodge, Dooly, Early, Pulaski, Seminole, Sumner, Terrell, Tift and Webster.

“We are in the very early stages of understanding the disease in the U.S. In the last six to eight months, we have made significant headway in understanding the genomic composition of different isolates from Georgia,” Bag said.

In spring 2019, Bag and his UGA colleagues detected the virus in cotton stalks and regrowth. It was also found in weeds such as henbit and perennial peanut. These could potentially act as a reservoir for the virus and the aphid vector. The detection of the virus from these hosts raises further questions about the current cultural practices of conservation tillage for growing cotton, as these plants can potentially maintain the virus throughout the winter.

“It is extremely important to be highly proactive in studying the disease since there is a lack of basic understanding of the virus and the disease. The team is working on different objectives to generate as much information as possible about the disease,” said Bag.

CLRDV is a single-stranded, positive-sense RNA virus that affects the phloem cells of the plants and is transmitted by cotton aphids. The virus is taken up by aphids during feeding and then deposited into other plants the next time the aphid feeds. The aphid can carry the disease for its whole life, allowing it to infect multiple plants. 

CLRDV is considered one of the most damaging viruses in cultivated cotton and is the first RNA virus on cotton reported to cause crop loss in the U.S.

“With no resistant cultivars currently available against the virus on cultivated cotton, and the lack of knowledge on the transmission and epidemiology of the disease, the virus is a serious threat to the cotton industry in the USA,” Bag said.

According to Bag, the main objectives of UGA research include:

  • Identifying alternate and overwintering hosts of the virus and the aphid vectors.
  • Understand the disease development and symptomatology on cotton.
  • Understand the role of aphids as vectors on disease spread.
  • Develop economical and precise detection tools.

The Georgia Cotton Commission contributed $25,000 and Cotton Incorporated provided the remaining $50,000 for the grant, which also will support a current research scholar and summer students.

Clint Thompson is an agriculture writer based in Tifton, Georgia.

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