Christmas Trees & Root Rot Disease: What North Carolina Scientists are Doing to Support the State’s Elite Christmas Tree industry

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Customer Spotlight: Adarsha Devihalli, PhD Student at NC State

 

Nestled in the southern region of the Appalachian Mountains is an environmentally beneficial abundance of Fraser fir—the most sought-after Christmas tree in the USA. Thanks to its charming aroma, soft and durable needles, and eye-catching silhouette the tree forms the foundation of a multi-million dollar industry in North Carolina. It is these qualities combined with this unique geography that make North Carolina the second-leading Christmas tree producer in the United States. And while Fraser firs are heavily popular with holiday enthusiasts, they’re also extremely vulnerable to Phytophthora, a common cause of root rot disease.

Several scientists at North Carolina State University, however, are not letting this pathogen get in the way of Christmas tree production. For PhD student Adarsha Devihalli, the solution is in the molecular details.

“My research focuses on studying a particular strain of Phytophthora and its genetic code,” says Devihalli. “My work has initially focused on identification of the pathogen using molecular and morphological tools. However, moving forward I will be using functional genomics tools including cloning techniques. This approach will ultimately enable the identification of genes in the pathogen important for the initiation of the infection process.”

Devihalli isn’t the only one working on Phytophthora, either. He is a member of the Christmas Tree Genetics (CTG) Program, headed by Dr. Justin G. A. Whitehill, Assistant Professor and Director of the Christmas Tree Genetics Program at NC State University. Together, Whitehill CTG lab members are working towards the development of novel genomic resources for Fraser fir to combat several pests of these celebrated trees.

Under the guidance of Dr. Whitehill, Devihalli is studying this devastating disease to better understand the issues at hand.

Adarsha and Dr. Whitehill with Azure 400 imaging system in their lab.

The process

To begin his experimental process, Devihalli first visits the NC Department of Agriculture’s research station in Ashe County – located approximately four hours away from the university in Raleigh. He looks for disease-related symptoms on Fraser firs, collects samples, and returns to the lab for culturing, identification, and analysis using the Azure 400 Imaging System.

“At that point, is when the Azure 400 Imager comes in,” says Devihalli. “It’s a multi-user instrument…so we don’t have to run different instruments or look for labs that have all the instruments for us. Once I’m sure I’ve identified Phytophthora, I can use the cultures for my downstream experiments.”

Together, the Whitehill CTG lab and Devihalli intend to use their experimental results to help further current knowledge of the Fraser fir genome, and uncover potential genetic resistance mechanisms to Phytophthora root rot.  Ultimately, they plan to develop better mitigation methods for root rot in the country’s most beloved Christmas tree.

“At present, there is no publicly available sequencing information for these species,” explains Devihalli. “We don’t have a genome sequence for Fraser fir, so this is a big goal for our lab [yet].”

 

Learn about the Azure 400 Imager that Devihalli uses by contacting us at info@azurebiosystems.com.
For more information on Dr. Whitehill’s Christmas tree research at NC State, visit https://research.cnr.ncsu.edu/sites/whitehilllab/

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