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Going wild: searching for genes to protect New Zealand kiwifruit from Psa

Dr Honour McCann examining wild kiwifruit. Photo provided

Dr Honour McCann from Massey University will investigate how Psa, the bacterial disease causing devastation to New Zealand kiwifruit, has evolved and emerged over the past 30 years, and whether wild varieties of kiwifruit are resistant to Psa. This could lead to better disease-resistant crops

Published 2 November 2017

2 LiLi HonourMcCann YifeiLiu

Honour McCann on a sampling trip in China with collaborators from the Chinese Academy of Sciences: Li Li (left) and Yifei Liu (right)


Plant disease is a major threat to agricultural productivity worldwide. Identifying the ways by which crop diseases emerge and ‘break-out’ from wild sources is of fundamental importance to the global horticultural industry. Recurring outbreaks of Psa (a strain of the common Pseudomonas syringae bacterium) have had devastating effects on one of New Zealand’s key exports, the kiwifruit. Yet wild kiwifruit varieties may have some immunity to these bacterial attacks that is lacking in cultivated kiwifruit.

Dr Honour McCann from Massey University has received a Marsden Fund Fast-Start grant to investigate how certain varieties of the Psa bacteria have emerged in parallel with the domestication of kiwifruit. Using Psa samples collected from wild and cultivated kiwifruit across East Asia, Dr McCann and her team will identify how this crop disease has emerged and evolved. They will also perform analyses to understand which wild kiwifruit genes confer resistance to the bacteria.

This research will enable plant breeders to develop better disease-resistant crops, and to help ensure the sustainability of the New Zealand kiwifruit industry. More generally, understanding the emergence and evolution of such crop diseases is key to ensuring global food security and the horticultural industry’s ongoing profitability.