PROSSER  – Tri Asmira Damayanti, a lecturer and researcher at Bogor Agricultural University in Indonesia, came to WSU’s Prosser Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center three months ago to learn the latest techniques in detection of plant viruses.
What she may not have counted on discovering was a plant virus in sample extracts of tomatoes and peppers she brought from Indonesia and previously undetected there. “This is maybe the first indication that there is a tospovirus in Indonesia,” she said.

Tospoviruses, which derive their name from the first identified member of the genus, tomato spotted wilt virus, cause significant crop losses in vegetables around the world. Three tospoviruses are known in the United States, according to a University of Florida extension bulletin.

The previously unknown in Indonesia tospovirus that Damayanti identified is tomato spotted wilt virus, which is also found in the United States. The samples were brought into the United States under a permit from the USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service-Plant Protection and Quarantine program.

“I have learned many simple techniques in detection during my training here,” Damayanti said. “We need diagnostic methods that are suitable for our conditions in Indonesia, especially for doing diagnosis of plant viruses.”

She utilized a combination of polymerase chain reaction technology and molecular biology techniques to confirm the presence of the virus.

She plans to collect additional samples of infected plants, especially vegetables, to test for tospovirus when she returns home the first week of September. “This virus is found everywhere,” she said, “but there is no report of it in Indonesia.”

Damayanti is just the latest international scientist to train in Naidu Rayapati’s lab under the auspices of a program sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development through the Integrated Pest Management Collaborative Research Support Program.

Rayapati, a WSU plant virologist, is also program leader and principal investigator for the IPM CRSP project on tospoviruses. The program is focusing on research and management of tospoviruses in vegetable cropping systems and capacity building in virus research in developing countries, especially in South and Southeast Asia.

“In recent years, many countries in Asia, especially in South Asia, are experiencing a virus disease problem which is transmitted by tiny insects called thrips,” he said. “This is becoming an alarming situation.

“The virus called peanut bud necrosis virus is becoming a problem in a broad range of crops, including vegetables like tomatoes and field crops like peanuts,” he said. “The disease kills the growing tip, and if the infection comes early in the season, the plant will die.”

He said that thrips have become resistant to pesticides due to indiscriminant use of pesticides. “One of the kinds of strategies we are trying to develop is technologies to minimize use of pesticides,” he said.

Vegetable production plays a key role in food security and in the rural economies of South and Southeast Asia, according to Rayapati. Small farmers, tilling one to two acres near urban areas, earn incomes to support their families by selling fresh produce in farmers markets.

“Participation in international projects is mutually beneficial to all participants,” Rayapati said. “Most of the time we go there, do the work. We think we have done something and we come back. In addition to making a difference in the lives of poor people, we accrue benefits by learning things that are useful to us in expanding our global knowledge and understanding and imparting these experiences to the younger generation to make them global citizens.”

Damayanti hopes her visit here will be just the start of a relationship with WSU. “I hope we can do some form of collaboration between my university and WSU in the future, especially involving Naidu’s project, because we have many sources of the virus in my country,” she said. “I hope we can do collaborative research through support from the IPM CRSP project and work together in the future to solve critical agricultural problems in my country.”