Rhizomania Resistance Helps Keep Sugar Beets
Safe By Marcia
Wood February 6, 2007
Life can quickly turn from sweet to sour for sugar beets when a killer
disease called rhizomania is on the rampage. Big, chunky beets that fall victim
to the virus that causes this disease might not be marketable as a source of
high-quality sugaror even of the natural chemicals that could otherwise
be used to make bakers' yeast, textiles or printer's ink.
Several years ago, Agricultural Research Service (ARS) plant pathologist
Liu was among the first experts to provide needed scientific evidence that
a new strain, or isolate, of rhizomania was on the march in some sugar beet
fields in southern California. Until that time, the natural resistance that ARS
plant geneticists and others had bred into sugar beets had protected the beets
against the virus, according to Liu. He's based at the
Crop Improvement and Protection Research Unit, Salinas, Calif.
Fortunately, those sugar beet breedersamong them
T. Lewellen at Salinas and
W. Panella and co-investigators in
Collins, Colo.had never let down their guard against rhizomania. They
now have developed new-generation sugar beets that may hold their own against
the new isolate.
California, geneticist Robert Lewellen and technician Jose Orozco evaluate
sugar beets for disease resistance. Click the image for more information
The scientists expect to make initial supplies of seed from the
superior beets available to other sugar beet breeders and seed companies later
These rhizomania-resistant plants fend off not just rhizomania, but at
least one other common natural enemy as well, such as microscopic worms known
That's especially good news for those now eyeing sugar beets as a
potential biofuel crop. In that role, the humble beet might help reduce
America's dependence on foreign oil.
about the research in the February 2007 issue of Agricultural Research
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.