Diagnosing Plant Diseases from Laos

November 11, 2016

The Crawford Fund has been supporting training, mentoring and volunteering activities in Laos for many years, under the close guidance and mentorship of Crawford Fund medal awardee Dr Lester Burgess. You can read more about recent activities here and learn more about the impact of being part of our projects from the Australian volunteer’s perspective with this blog by Madaline Healey. Both Lester and Madaline are currently back in Laos to continue the good work!

In addition to this, knowledge of the viral pathogens of crops in Laos has now trebled, thanks to the endeavours of Ms Khonesavanh Chittarath, who was the beneficiary of a training award from the Crawford Fund.

Laos is the poorest country in South-East Asia, and has only a small team of plant pathologists. Until now, no Lao person had received specialist training in plant virology, and consequently, knowledge of the viral diseases that affected the country’s crops was very limited. To redress this skills gap, Ms Chittarath travelled to Australia to undertake research within the plant virology group of Drs Andrew Geering and John Thomas at The University of Queensland. To make the training more relevant, plant disease specimens were imported into Australia from Laos under quarantine.

banana_bunch_top_virusThe first week of Ms Chittarath’s visit coincided with the 12th Australasian Plant Virology Workshop in Fremantle, which is the largest gathering of plant virologists in the region. The remainder of Ms Chittarath’s 10-week visit was spent in the laboratory working through the imported plant disease specimens.

Although she was only able to scratch the surface, tremendous progress was made in diagnosing the diseases. In addition, several new records of plant viruses were made, including the banana bunchy top virus (see right), banana mild mosaic virus and cucumber mosaic virus in banana, chilli ringspot virus in chilli, capsicum chlorosis virus in spider lily, several begomovirus species in a range of horticultural crops, and cymbidium mosaic virus and Odontoglossum ringspot virus in orchids.

This work builds on a base of only three official plant virus records for the country. It is hoped that the new diagnostic skills acquired by Ms Chittarath will provide the foundation for devising new disease control strategies for Laotian famers.