Mystery blueberry disease baffles US scientists

A mystery disease might be causing damage to blueberry bushes. As blueberries account for one-quarter of Richmond’s crop total, a new virus could be a concern for local blueberry farmers.

There are already two well-known viruses that can infect blueberry plants, the shock virus and the scorch virus. However, when some visibly sick plants were tested, the results came up negative for these already-known viruses.

David Charest, project manager with the not-for-profit organization Genome BC, said now is the time to tackle this new disease, to genetically identify it and find the right “tools” to combat it. The research being undertaken, funded by Genome BC, is to identify the pathogen causing unhealthy blueberry plants – to figure out whether it’s a new virus or a variant of already-identified ones – so scientists and farmers can have better tools to handle it.

Currently, the research team is doing DNA sequencing on the pathogen. Viruses in blueberry plants pose no health threat to humans, but they can impact crop yield. The concern is if the new pathogen spreads, yields will be lower or some bushes might not even bear fruit, Charest explained.


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