Is it catching?

Our scientist's back in the lab looking at viruses in edible and ornamental potato relatives - and she needs your help

I thought I'd worn my white lab coat for the last time when I left university. I have to admit that at the time I was quite relieved! There's often a split between ‘lab-based’ and ‘field’ biologists. Of course in actual fact both branches are complementary and when used together can be a powerful way to solve problems.

Despite being a field biologist at heart, I've recently been working on a project where molecular techniques are essential to help answer our current research question. This has led to me dusting off my (rusty) lab skills. And, although I love being outdoors, I can’t pretend that on a wet, cold November day I won’t be very glad to be working inside in a warm dry lab!

Solanum research

Solanum crispum 'Glasnevin'My new project is a survey to find out what plant viruses affect UK gardens. We're starting with the plant genus Solanum. It's particularly interesting as it includes important crops such as potato, tomato and aubergine. Since they're economically important, the pests and diseases that affect them have been carefully studied.

However, diseases of ornamental solanums such as potato vine (pictured above) are less well understood. Recent research has suggested that ornamental plants can be infected by some of the same viruses as those that attack solanaceous crops.

It's also possible that these infections may be symptomless - meaning that our garden plants could be carrying invisible infections that could spread to crop varieties. By collecting samples of ornamental Solanum plants from gardens around the UK and testing the foliage for viruses using molecular techniques, I'm hoping to assess what viruses are out there and whether they may serve as a source of disease to farmed crops.

Check back with this blog to keep up to date with this study and see how I get on in the lab!

Tomato spotted wilt virus (on tomato plant)Can you help?

If you'd like to be part of this study:

1 - Send in samples of leaves from tomato, aubergine and potato if they have virus symptoms.

2 - Send in garden samples of leaf material from ornamental species of Solanum, for example S. crispum and S. laxum (previously known as S. jasminoides), whether or not they look virus-infected.

Select several whole leaves from your chosen Solanum plant and put the fresh leaves in a slightly inflated sealed bag.

Please include:

Name of the plant (Latin name, common name and/or cultivar)

Postcode where the plant is growing

Date of planting and place of purchase, if known

Your name and email or postal address

Post to: Anna Platoni, Plant Health, RHS Garden Wisley, Woking, Surrey GU23 6QB


Useful links

Read more about the Solanum project

Find out more about plant viruses

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