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Breeding battles verticillium wilt in tomatoesBreeding battles verticillium wilt in tomatoes

NCSU breeding program began four years ago to find tomato lines resistant to the troublesome verticillium wilt.

John Hart

August 17, 2023

2 Min Read
Kyle Fahey speaking
Speaking at an Aug. 10 field day, Kyle Fahey, a graduate research assistant at the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research Station, explains his research project to develop a test to determine if a tomato line is either resistant or susceptible to non-race 1 verticillium wilt.​John Hart

At a Glance

  • Scientists at NCSU are studying 552 tomato breeding lines to find breeds with resistance to non-race 1 verticillium wilt.

The nemesis soil-borne disease known as verticillium wilt has plagued tomato farmers in North Carolina and other states for decades because it can defoliate tomato plants, stunt plant growth and harm yield. 

Scientists at North Carolina State University began a breeding program four years ago to find tomato lines resistant to the troublesome disease. Kyle Fahey, a graduate research assistant working out of the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research Station and Extension Center in Mills River, says he and Dr. Reza Shekasteband, N.C. Cooperative Extension research scholar, are examining 552 tomato breeding lines that show very good resistance to non-race 1 verticillium wilt. 

“We will go out every year and we will rate the disease on the plants and that allows us to accept the best plants year after year and essentially work toward the best plant that we can produce,” Fahey said at an Aug. 10 field day at the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research Center. 

Researching effective treatment 

Fahey explained that verticillium wilt is a soil-borne disease that starts in the roots and climbs up to the main stem, clogging up the vasculature and causing wilt symptoms in the plant. This robs the plant of water and nutrients, primarily water. 

Fahey said the challenge is there aren’t many control measures that are effective in controlling verticillium wilt which is why breeding disease-resistant tomato varieties is so critical. He said crop rotation won’t work to control the disease because the pathogen can survive in the soil from 10 to 20 years. 

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“Even if you could take your field out of tomatoes for 10 to 20 years, you then have weedy host species so that if a weed comes into your field and the Verticillium can survive on it, then you start the timer over again,” Fahey said on the field day. 

Fahey explained that his research project is looking to develop a test that can be run on tomato lines in the NCSU population to determine if a plant is resistant or susceptible to non-race 1 verticillium wilt. He said the basis of the test is a process known as PCR, which is essentially a copy machine for a specific strain of DNA. 

“I would like to be able to essentially take any small sample of leaf tissue and tell you whether this plant is resistant or susceptible. And you can do that at any age, at any point in the growing time. If you think about that, you could take out 100 seedlings in a small tray and you could test them all and only plant out the ones that are good in your breeding population. We want to just be able to focus on the ones that offer the best resistance possible and make it even better,” Fahey explained.  

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About the Author(s)

John Hart

Associate Editor, Southeast Farm Press

John Hart is associate editor of Southeast Farm Press, responsible for coverage in the Carolinas and Virginia. He is based in Raleigh, N.C.

Prior to joining Southeast Farm Press, John was director of news services for the American Farm Bureau Federation in Washington, D.C. He also has experience as an energy journalist. For nine years, John was the owner, editor and publisher of The Rice World, a monthly publication serving the U.S. rice industry.  John also worked in public relations for the USA Rice Council in Houston, Texas and the Cotton Board in Memphis, Tenn. He also has experience as a farm and general assignments reporter for the Monroe, La. News-Star.

John is a native of Lake Charles, La. and is a  graduate of the LSU School of Journalism in Baton Rouge.  At LSU, he served on the staff of The Daily Reveille.

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