Part of the "Under the Microscope" Series admin December 12, 2014

“Consumers are picky,” says Dr. Claudia Goyer, a bacteriologist at the Potato Research Centre at AAFC, gesturing to the potato on her desk. It is covered with common scab, a disease that forms ugly legions that make the affected potato unsuitable for sale. “If you look at an infected field, it all looks okay,” says Goyer. “It’s only when you harvest your crop that you suddenly realize that a significant portion of it can’t be sold.” The disease affects the bottom line of growers everywhere, and Dr. Goyer and her colleagues are working toward solutions.

Common scab is a soil born disease and is very persistent once it is established in a field. There is currently no chemical way to control it. “It’s a disease we still have to learn about,” says Goyer. “We don’t understand very well when and why in certain fields you have lots of it, and in others you don’t”. Dr. Goyer says the keys are in the soil, and is concerned more specifically with the communities of bacteria present in the soil.

She and her team are working with industry partners in the Atlantic region to compare soil conditions between infected fields and healthy fields. Her team’s experiments are designed to uncover which factors allow a pathogen to establish in a particular field and not in another. The goal is to learn which types of bacteria supress the presence of common scab, and to find ways to help growers change a field’s bacterial community to facilitate a healthy crop. Dr. Goyer and her team are also part of a project exploring biopesticides that can be used to combat common scab.

Dr. Goyer uses her microbiology expertise to partner with her colleagues at the Potato Research Centre. Dr. Goyer is collaborating with fellow AAFC researcher Dr. Bernie Zebarth on a project to improve potato yields. She is exploring what types of bacterial communities promote growth, protect from pathogens, and affect other changes. Goyer also works with potato genomics research scientists Dr. David De Koeyer and Dr. Helen Tai. She uses the tools they are developing to understand how pathogens affect gene expression.

Although Dr. Goyer lends her expertise to many agricultural issues and projects, she is a plant pathologist at heart. “It’s the interaction between microorganisms and plants that is fascinating to me”, says Goyer. “It’s a war, where each organism is constantly evolving to infect and resist one another.”

Dr. Goyer wants the community know that the Potato Research Centre is open to collaboration. “If there are issues facing the industry, we have the expertise here to find solutions.” Dr. Goyer’s focus is disease, and she is looking to learn more about our region’s fields to help make them healthy.

Read about other Potato Research Centre scientists Dr. David De Koeyer and Dr. Helen Tai.

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