2017 Faculty Update: Ben Lockhart
The plant virology lab continues to be a vibrant hub of activity including several students, new projects, grants, talks, and publications. Last fall Sara Bratsch defended her Ph.D. thesis titled, “Investigation of virus-like disorders of agronomically important plants”. She was awarded a USDA-NIFA-AFRI post-doctoral research grant to study viruses of tomatoes in MN high tunnels and community gardens and recently started that project. Zaigham Shah, a visiting doctoral student from Pakistan, joined our lab for 6 months to produce antibodies to detect Citrus tristeza virus-a major pathogen limiting citrus production around the world.
The Plant Virology course for graduate students (PLPA 8104) continues to be an enriching course and the 2016 class recently published their class project identifying aster yellows phytoplasma in phlox for the first time. In addition to that course, I give several guest lectures in various plant production/horticulture undergraduate courses throughout the year.
New projects have been undertaken with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on an emerging viral disease of corn in Kenya and sub-Saharan Africa called maize lethal necrosis (MLN). This project involves not only the University of Minnesota Department of Plant Pathology, but also the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), USDA-ARS/Ohio State University, and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) to provide diagnostics and management solutions for this disease which can cause total loss of maize crops for smallholder farmers.
I am also beginning a collaboration with Dr. Quito-Avila from Escuela Superior Politécnica del Litoral (ESPOL) to study maize lethal necrosis in maize production in Ecuador. Our lab will gain a doctoral student from Ecuador this fall and his project will involve studying the incidence of MLN and characterizing vectors in Ecuador.
Dr. Dimitre Mollov, who completed his Ph.D. thesis in my lab, continues to be a strong collaborating partner at USDA-ARS National Germplasm Resources Laboratory as well.
There is rarely a shortage of new projects to work on and our current projects range from agronomically important crops like sugarcane, banana, maize, tomatoes, and cucurbits to ornamental plants like cycads, pelargoniums, orchids, mandevilla, ash, and euonymus. New viruses discovered and characterized in the lab or with collaborators in the last year include: Petunia chlorotic mottle virus, Rudbeckia flower distortion virus, Clematis chlorotic mottle virus, and Bermuda grass latent virus.
Lastly, our lab continues to be a strong component of the University’s Plant Disease Clinic doing the virology diagnostic tests for samples that come in. Publications resulting from clinic samples include papers identifying Tobacco streak virus with berry scarring in cranberry and the first report of Rose rosette virus in MN.