College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences

Department of Plant Pathology

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Researchers uncover secrets of destructive plant virus

Hanu Pappu, a Washington State University professor, and a colleague from Australia have deciphered the inner workings of one of the world’s most destructive crop viruses.

Tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV) is a global pest estimated to cause more than $1 billion in crop losses each year. Like the other 25 known tospoviruses, TSWV is spread by thrips, tiny black-winged insects that feed on the sap of many food, fiber and feed plants including bean, lettuce, peanut, pepper, potato and tomato.Dr. Hanu Pappu

The strategy for reducing damage caused by TSWV is to grow virus-resistant crop varieties. However, viruses are notorious for overcoming resistance. Read more at WSU News.

Successful PhD defense

Parama final 2

(Left to right) Patricia Okubara, Mark Mazzola, Tobin Peever, and Parama Sikdar at WSU Department of Plant Pathology (Not pictured, Changlin Xiao at USDA-ARS, Parlier, CA)

Parama Sikdar from Department of Plant Pathology, Washington State University (WSU) recently obtained her PhD degree in December 2013. Mark Mazzola and Changlin Xiao served as major advisors while Tobin Peever and Patricia Okubara were on her supervisory committee. Sikdar’s research program was conducted at the WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center and the USDA-ARS Tree Fruit Research Lab in Wenatchee. Her dissertation was entitled “Biology and epidemiology of Phacidiopycnis washingtonensis on apple” and her research focused on developing an understanding of the epidemiology and population structure of Phacidiopycnis washingtonensis in Washington State.  She also developed a real-time PCR protocol which enables detection of latent fruit infections caused by P. washingtonensis and Sphaeropsis pyriputrscens. Results from these studies could benefit apple fruit growers in making decisions on the timely application of control strategies and for inspection of apple fruit destined for export market. Prior to joining WSU, she worked as a Research Biologist at Chembiotek, which is a CRO under the Chatterjee Group, Kolkata, India and had obtained her B.S (honors, 2003-06) and M.S(2006-08) in Botany from the University of Calcutta, Kolkata, India. Starting in January, 2014 she would begin studies as a post-doctoral research associate in the Department of Plant Pathology at Tennessee State University, Nashville, TN under the direction of Margaret Mmbaga.

Faculty members deliver invited presentations



Dr. Mark Mazzola, Adjunct Professor in the department and Research Plant Pathologist with the USDA-ARS in Wenatchee, delivered an invited address at the conference “Fruits and Roots: a celebration and forward look” in East Malling, United Kingdom.  The conference was held as part of a series of activities to mark the centenary of East Malling Research.  His talk was entitled “Resilience of orchard replant soils to pathogen re-infestation in response to Brassicaceae seed meal amendment”.



du Toit and Ruhl

Lindsey du Toit and Gail Ruhl

Dr. Lindsey du Toit was invited by Gail Ruhl, Plant Diagnostician, to give a seminar titled “Establishing a career in applied plant pathology” to the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology at Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN, on 9 October 2013. Lindsey met with graduate students, postdoctorates, and individual faculty during her visit to the department on 9-10 October. Lindsey also was invited to speak on this topic as part of the Guest Speaker Seminar Program of the Plant Pathology Graduate Student Association of the Department of Plant Pathology at The Ohio State University. Her seminar was presented on 28 October 2013. Lindsey met with faculty, staff, and graduate students at the Wooster campus on 28 October and the Columbus campus on 29 October.

In November, Lindsey du Toit was invited to speak at the 2013 UK Onion & Carrot Conference ( in Peterborough, England on 19-20 November 2013. Her presentation in the onion program was titled “Neck Rot Identification and Management Based on Achilles’ Heel”. The onion session was attended by ~350 registrants from the UK and European Union. Lindsey met with researchers, consultants, and growers during the event to discuss neck rot and other onion diseases.


‘A national problem’: Root rot attacking Christmas trees

Katie McKeever, a Ph.D. candidate in Gary Chastagner’s lab, is working under a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to create a nationwide collection of Phytophthoras from Christmas trees to understand regional variation in pathogen populations. Research is highlighted on NBC News’ web site  mckeever

Researchers acquit guava of spreading deadly fungus

Peever in his lab at WSU. (Photo by Brian Clark, WSU News)

No more pitting guava against eucalyptus when it comes to explaining how a poorly understood fungal disease spreads. That is the conclusion reported by an international team of scientists in the journal Molecular Ecology ( The team used a common forensic technique to clear guava’s good name.

In reaching its conclusion, the team of Brazilians, Koreans and Americans turned to plant pathologist Tobin Peever of Washington State University. At issue was a fungal pathogen called Puccinia psidii that attacks eucalyptus trees.  Read more.

WSU research tucked inside traveling Capitol Christmas Tree

Tucked within the massive Capitol Christmas Tree headed for Washington, D.C. are three tiny sensors most people will never see. They will collect information on how well the tree holds moisture during its 25-day journey from Washington state.

Tree-placing-hobo-550Researcher Katie McKeever placed the data devices deep inside the canopy of the 88-foot-tall Engelmann spruce last weekend as it was loaded onto a flatbed trailer on the Colville National Forest in Pend Oreille County.

“These HOBO data loggers automatically measure temperature every 15 minutes, providing statistics about the ambient environment inside the tree canopy,” said McKeever, a graduate student in plant pathology at Washington State University Puyallup. “Information will be collected to observe any changes in the moisture content of the tree during shipment.”
Read more about McKeever and PhD major professor, Dr. Gary Chastagner, here.



Faculty Receives Dr. BP Pal Distinguished Chair Award from the Indian National Science Academy

Dr. Hanu Pappu, Sam Smith Distinguished Professor in the department of plant pathology, was selected by the Indian National Science Academy (INSA) to receive Dr. BP Pal Chair Award for 2013.  The Academy instituted the INSA BP Pal Chair to recognize distinguished scientists from all over the world and to facilitate their visit to India and interactions with the Indian scientists at various scientific Institutions. The BP Pal Chair is awarded to those scientists with an exemplary record of scholarship with national and international stature in the field of agricultural research. Pappu plans to deliver seminars, guest lectures in undergraduate and graduate classes at various agricultural universities in India and meet with several Indian scientists engaged in research in agricultural biotechnology to explore and develop joint research projects and grant pro

Pappu’s research focus is on the biology, epidemiology and molecular biology of insect-borne plant viruses especially on thrips-tospoviruses pest complex affecting vegetables. He published more than 150 refereed journal articles, several invited reviews, and delivered invited talks at national and international conferences. He served on the organizing committees of several international conferences on plant viruses held in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America.  He has ongoing international collaborations and research projects in more than 18 countries.  Pappu was recently elected to serve as the Secretary of the International Working Group on Viruses of Legumes and Vegetables with more than 150 members from 27 countries. He is a graduate faculty of the WSU’s Interdisciplinary PhD program in Molecular Plant Sciences.  Pappu teaches a graduate course in virology and team teaches an undergraduate course in plant pathology and a graduate course on molecular genetics of plant-microbe interactions. He serves as the Director of the Plant Pathology Graduate Program – the largest plant pathology graduate program in the country with students receiving NSF, Fulbright and ARCS Fellowships.

Dr. Hanu PappuDr. B.P. Pal (May 26, 1906- September 14, 1989), in whose honor this award was instituted by INSA, was the first Director of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, India’s premier federal agricultural research agency. He was one of the foremost scientists in wheat genetics and breeding. He obtained his PhD from Cambridge and was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1972.

Celebrating Excellence

A Celebration of Excellence reception to recognize recent achievements of Plant Pathology personnel was held November 1. We have been busy!  Scroll through the attached Excellence 2013 to see some of the things we’ve accomplished.

Ask Mr. Christmas Tree

If you’re looking for Gary Chastagner around this time of year, you would do well to put out an all-points bulletin to Wherever Christmas Trees Are Sold. He’s perused trees up and down the West Coast, as well as in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Arizona, and Texas. Just look for the cheerful fellow taking clippings, bending needles, and chatting up the owners about things like moisture content and needle retention.

“My family knows that if it’s Christmas time, I’m usually around looking at Christmas tree lots,” he says.chastagner

Chastagner, officially a plant pathologist with the WSU Puyallup Research and Extension Center, is better known as “Mr. Christmas Tree.” For more than 30 years, his pursuit of new knowledge about the trees has been so thorough that it would be called obsessive, were it not science. He has studied tree diseases, analyzed species from around the world, deconstructed tree stands, and grappled with that bane of the Christmas tree consumer, needles on the carpet. Read more.


NIFA Award to Debbie Inglis’s team

Congratulations are due to Debbie Inglis, whose team just received a ‘NIFA Partnership Award for Innovative Programs and Projects’ from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Debbie leads the Biodegradable Mulches for Specialty Crops Produced Under Protective Covers project along with Co-PD Carol Miles (Horticulture Dept.) who is also stationed at the Mount Vernon REC. There are several hundred thousand acres of crops grown under plastic in the US to control weeds, conserve soil moisture, increase crop yields, modify soil temperature, and shorten the time to harvest. Production and disposal of the plastic creates significant environmental challenges and development, testing and adoption of alternatives is the focus of the project. The transdisciplinary project team includes scientists specializing in Biological Systems Engineering, Economics, Horticulture, Plant Pathology, Sociology, Soils and Textiles Science, from six institutions in several states. Conception, design and management of these large multidisciplinary projects that include research, extension and outreach requires amazing efforts from faculty members, and we are thrilled to see the success of the project acknowledged by the primary USDA funding agency. This is an exceptional example of what we are trying to achieve in our research and extension efforts at WSU.

Read more in article from WSU News

Inglis and Miles accept award from Undersecretary Woteki:

Inglis NIFA award small

l to r: Woteki, Inglis, Miles

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