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Strawberries Under Spotlight In Pathogen Research

Researchers are using ultraviolet light to combat harmful pathogens on strawberries.
University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Natalia Peres, a professor of plant pathology at University of Florida, dreams of the day where harmful pathogens no longer pose a significant threat to crops.

Along with researchers from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Cornell University, Peres is experimenting on reducing the effects of powdery mildew on strawberries using ultraviolet rays.

Scientists from Norway developed a tractor-drawn machine, nicknamed , that uses light to suppress the negative effects of pathogens.

The farmers who have had a chance to see the new technology up close recognize its revolutionary potential.   

“We tested it with one large commercial farm in Florida so far,” said Peres. “That's actually the farm that's been testing the mechanical harvester for strawberries, so they’re excited with the technology because they envision that in the future when they have this mechanical harvesting, they will have the machine running at night harvesting the fruits and we could add UV lights to control the disease.”

The machine, nicknamed Thorvald, is tractor-drawn.
Credit Norwegian University of Life Sciences
The Florida Channel
The machine, nicknamed Thorvald, is tractor-drawn.

The machine - which is said to resemble a spaceship - uses nighttime UV applications to “surprise” the natural defenses of the pathogen. A blast of UV light catches the pathogen when it is dormant.

“This was discovered by our collaborators in Norway,” said Peres. “Basically, the pathogens evolve to develop some resistance to UV during the day and that mechanism of resistance to UV is shut down at night, so when you expose the pathogens to UV at night, because the mechanism is shut down, the pathogen is more susceptible.”

The new technology has been displayed at two Tampa Bay area locations: the Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Balm and Wish Farms in Duette.

“I think it will spread to other parts of the country,” said Peres. “Usually it's not very quick. I think growers take their time and wait until somebody uses the technology and they see there’s not a problem. The adoption is not fast and I think that’s with anything, but there’s great potential that it’ll be used around other states and areas.”

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Aldo Puccini is WUSF/USF Zimmerman School digital news intern for spring 2018.