Numerous insects in the order Hemiptera (the “true bugs”), such as aphids, psyllids and whiteflies, are known vectors of pathogens that cause plant diseases. These insects posses piercing-sucking mouthparts that allow them to access deep plant vascular tissues to satisfy their nutritional requirements. In doing so, they often transmit viruses and bacteria to their host plant(s), many of which are lethal to the plant. Texas AgriLife Research is at the forefront in addressing one such plant disease vector that is a serious pest of potatoes in Texas and elsewhere; the potato psyllid (Bactericera cockerelli Sulc). The potato psyllid is the sole known vector of “Candidatus Liberibacter solanacearum (psyllaurous)”, a bacterial endosymbiont that has been shown to be associated with zebra chip disease. This pathogen is similar to the Liberibacter pathogens that cause Huanglongbing (citrus greening) in citrus, and results in substantial yield losses because of tuber defects resulting from infection with Liberibacter. To unravel the mysteries of zebra chip disease and develop solutions, collaborative research projects are ongoing at Weslaco and other Texas AgriLife facilities, as well as with other research scientists in Texas and elsewhere.
Collaborative research projects include field evaluations of seedborne zebra chip, screening potato varieties for zebra chip resistance, testing insecticide-treated barriers to protect small crop areas from potato psyllids, evaluating insecticide efficacies, and more.