Modelling the root of crop disease

10th Jan 2012

For sugar beet farmers, the appearance of yellowing patches in a field of sugar beet is an alarming sight. It could signal the presence of ‘root madness’, or rhizomania, and a potential reduction in their root sugar yield by 50–60%.

Breeding disease resistance and deploying pesticides have made remarkable progress in crop protection. But such strategies are not always feasible, particularly for emerging epidemics where appropriate methods may not yet exist. Another route, known as containment, is to destroy the crop and prohibit its further growth on the infected farm.

Monitoring the effectiveness of any kind of crop protection is vitally important, and mathematical models that track and predict disease, such as those created by Professor Chris Gilligan, and his team in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Plant Sciences, are helping to provide policy makers and regulators with the basis on which to make crucial strategic decisions.

Gilligan, a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) Professorial Fellow, and his team’s work, in close collaboration with government policy makers at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), has helped both to gauge the effectiveness of containment strategies for this potentially devastating disease and to curb the potential for a future epidemic.

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