Researchers Receive $1.95 Million to Study Devastating Apple Disease
October 12, 2009
URBANA - University of Illinois plant geneticist Schuyler Korban is the principal investigator for a project recently funded by USDA - Specialty Crop Research Initiative program in the amount of $1.95 million to work on a project dealing with the bacterial disease fire blight.

"Fire blight is the worst disease for apples, pears, and other ornamental species," said Korban. "We have assembled a multidisciplinary team of genomicists, bacteriologists, nanotechnologists, economists, and Extension to pursue short-term and long-term strategies to control this disease."

Korban said the team will work to develop biocontrol and delivery methods that are effective, targeted, and environmentally friendly so that we can grow different high-quality apple varieties in various regions around the U.S. without losing trees to this serious disease as current methods of control are ineffective. The team plans to map genes for resistance to fire blight and attempt to clone them with a goal to introduce them back into apple to develop fire blight resistant varieties. These biocontrol control methods and fire blight resistant varieties will expand apple markets into foreign countries, particularly those in Asia.

"Obviously, developing environmentally friendly management practices using biocontrol agents for short-term benefits and fire blight-resistant apple varieties for a long-term solution is our goal for this project to benefit both the U.S. industry and ultimately all consumers," Korban said.

Another component of the project is to develop and deliver outreach programs and economic and marketing studies to help growers adopt comprehensive management systems for fire blight control.

Other co-principal investigators on this project include professors Youfu (Frank) Zhao, Kyekyoon (Kevin) Kim, Hyngsoo Choi, and Lia Nogueira from the University of Illinois, Larry Pusey from USDA-ARS in Washington, and George Sundin from Michigan State University.