The emerging cotton leafroll dwarf virus is currently threatening the $7 billion US cotton industry. Carried by a tiny insect, the cotton aphid, this virus is known to kill 80 percent of crops in infected fields and even infects crops bred for resistance. To address this new threat to American cotton, the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research(FFAR) awarded a $150,000 Rapid Outcomes for Agriculture Research (ROAR) grant to Auburn University to study the effectiveness of existing and new cotton strains at resisting the disease.
“Cotton leafroll dwarf virus is the latest concern threatening southern cotton farmers and, if left unchecked, this virus could become a pandemic,” said FFAR Executive Director Dr. Sally Rockey. “Increasing our knowledge of resistance and developing extension tools for farmers while the virus is still relatively contained is the best way to slow the disease’s spread.”
Cotton leafroll dwarf virus, prevalent in Argentina and Brazil, was first detected in two Alabama counties in 2017. One year later, the virus spread to 21 Alabama counties as well as cotton fields in Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas. South American farmers are protected by breeders developing virus-resistant varieties; however, the new strain of cotton leafroll dwarf virus is infecting plants that were bred to resist the disease.
Auburn University researchers are following this example by testing a wide variety of commercially available American and South American cotton plants for resistance to this new virus. Many cotton strains grown domestically are vulnerable to the new cotton leafroll dwarf virus, making the rapid development and deployment of resistant cotton varieties imperative to avoid sizable yield losses in the US.
The Auburn University research team is assessing the resistance of existing and advanced cotton varieties from around the world to combat the US strain of cotton leafroll dwarf virus. They are further studying the effects of the disease on different cotton crops, tracking how cotton leafroll dwarf virus is spread by cotton aphids and other insects. Using the FFAR grant, they are developing diagnostic tools to quickly identify the disease. Additionally, the researchers are producing digital and print information as training for both scientists and producers.
“The complexity of this problem has allowed the synergy of multiple disciplines and universities to come together by focusing on both long- and short-term solutions. The FFAR-ROAR grant allowed the team to unify and build on the preliminary information to answer key questions, which led to the securing of major funding and designation of Center of Excellence with UGA for CLRDV-AL.” said Auburn University Cotton Breeder Dr. Jenny Koebernick.
Cotton Incorporated and Auburn University matched FFAR’s investment for a total award of $301,000 to fight cotton leafroll dwarf virus.