Disease resistance in fruit and vegetables

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There are a number of lines of defence against pests (that, those animals that cause damage to the plants we grow) and diseases in the organic garden, principal among these being the practice of good husbandry, creating healthy soil and ensuring high standards of garden hygiene. But no matter how diverse and healthy the garden eco-system may be, there will always be a degree of disease and pest presence. In many ways, some level of pathogen population in the garden can be not only acceptable but desirable as they are indicative of a generally healthful and diverse environment, and add to the overall robustness of the system as an immunity to such detrimental influences will build up, particularly in a balanced polycultural regime. Indeed, most of the plants we grow will tend to be selected because they are trouble free, and those that are more susceptible to attack will have fallen by the wayside over time. However, most farmers find it unacceptable that the food crops they grow are damaged by pests.

For these crops there has been considerable research and selective breeding carried out in order to find cultivars that are resistant or immune to pest and disease damage. Breeding for plant disease resistance generally has involved finding suitable genetic material amongst existing stocks or in the wild, which is then incorporated into commercial varieties.

Example: The apple[edit]

In the case of apples, in which research is being carried out in order to develop resistance to diseases such as apple scab (Venturia inaequalis), powdery mildew (Podosphaera leucotricha), orchard fireblight (Erwinia amylovora), woolly apple aphid (Eriosoma lanigerum) and collar rot (Phytophthora cactorum), the main sources of resistant material used in breeding programmes such as those being run by East Malling Research Station in England or Hortresearch in New Zealand are major gene resistances derived from crab-apples. The Vf gene for black spot resistance is derived from the ornamental crab-apple species Malus floribunda. Most black spot resistant cultivars developed around the world carry this gene, but there are some selections that carry the Vr (from M. pumila) or Vm (from M. micromalus) gene. Major gene resistances to powdery mildew are derived from M. robusta (Pl1) and M. zumi (Pl2), and the apple cultivar Northern Spy has a long-standing reputation for its major gene resistance to woolly apple aphid. Since early this century this resistance has been used to develop woolly aphid resistant rootstocks such as MM.106 and M.793. Much later it was shown that the cultivar was also very resistant to collar rot and a useful breeding parent for this resistance.

Resistance and immunity[edit]

Some plants can tolerate the presence of large numbers of insects without being severely affected. This is not very satisfactory however as insects will still cause damage, and in fact further breeding and population expansion of the pest species is supported. Other varieties are less attractive to pests, but this can be difficult to sustain or demonstrate.
The most valuable form of resistance is where the pest cannot survive as well on one variety as on another. In some cases this can actually make the plants immune to attack, as is the case with the lettuces Avoncrisp and Avondefiance which were bred at the Institute of Horticultural Research, Wellesbourne during the 1960s, which are fully resistant to lettuce root aphid (Pemphigus bursarius).

Trade-off of breeding for resistance[edit]

Sometimes however there can be a trade-off, for those varieties which have increased immunity or resistance may be lacking in other qualities such as flavour, yield or quality. Celery resistant to the Fusarium fungus (Fusarium oxysporum spp.) may not succumb to this disease, but may also be unacceptably short, ribby and low yielding.
Further, a cultivar that is resistant to one disease may be more susceptible to another that is equally important. A lettuce cultivar that is resistant to mosaic virus may be sensitive to corky root disease, whilst another that resists corky root may be vulnerable to downy mildew (Brim lactic).
Another drawback to resistance is that depending on the host pathogen system, resistance is sometimes not long lasting as new pathogen strains quickly develop, and further research and breeding is constantly needed.

Availability of resistant varieties[edit]

Resistant varieties are not available for all crops. For several of the most damaging plant diseases, such as Potato blight (Phytophthora infestans) and white rot (Sclerotic cepivorum) of the Allium family, no acceptable resistant cultivars are yet available. In addition, commercial seed companies and plant breeders rarely invest resources into developing resistant cultivars for more minor or speciality crops, which often tend to be those of greater interest to the organic grower.

In general it is probably fair to say that resistance will not fully guarantee total crop protection, but choosing resistant varieties should rather be considered as a part of an overall Integrated pest management strategy, especially against virus diseases. In particular they can be especially useful where the threat from specific pests and diseases is high.

Table of resistant crops[edit]

The table below illustrates a number of pest and disease resistant vegetable crop varieties, although should not be considered comprehensive.

Crop Variety Comments
French Bean Aigullion Resistant to bean mosaic virus and anthracnose
Hildora Tolerant of bean mosaic virus
Maxi Tolerant of bean mosaic virus
Nektar Queen Resistant to bean mosaic virus
Farba Resistant to bean mosaic virus
Hilda Resistant to bean mosaic virus
Broad Bean Futura Tolerant of chocolate spot
Brussels sprouts Cavalier Resistant to light leaf spot
Braveheart F1 Resistant to powdery mildew and light leaf spot
Cabbage Stonehead F1 Resistant to mildew
Calabrese Emperor F1 Highly tolerant of black rot and downy mildew
Sampson F1 Highly resistant to black rot and downy mildew
Carrot Fly Away F1 Bred for resistance to carrot fly
Newmarket Good resistance to splitting
Cucumber Bush Champion F1 Resistant to cucumber mosaic virus
Marketmore Resistant to cucumber mosaic virus
Burpless Tasty Green F1 Resistant to mildew and tolerant of heat
Slice King F1 Resistant to downy and powdery mildew, gummosis and angular leaf spot
Cumlaude F1 Tolerant of powdery mildew
Media F1 Tolerant of powdery mildew
Leek Swiss Giant, Zermatt Moderate rust resistance
Alvitta Rust Tolerant
Conora Good resistance to rust
Lettuce Alexandria Highly resistant to downy mildew and bolting
Lisbusa Resistant to downy mildew, tolerant of mosaic virus, root aphid and tipburn
Sylvestra Resistant to downy mildew and aphids
Little Gem Resistant to root aphid
Barcelona Resistant to aphids and mildew
Iglo Resistant to downey mildew
Revolution Resistant to mildew and bolting
Smile Resistant to aphids, mildew, tipburn and bolting
Parsnip Avonreister Very good resistance to canker
Gladiator F1 High resistance to canker
Tender and True Good canker resistance
Pea Ambassador Resistant to powdery mildew, entation virus and fusarium wilt
Cavalier Good resistance to powdery mildew.
Greenshaft Resistant to downy mildew and fusarium wilt
Rondo Resistant to fusarium wilt
Potato (first early) Colleen Good resistance to blight and scab
Premiere Resistant to blight and spraing
Pentland Javelin Good all round disease resistance, including golden eelworm and scab
Swift Resistant to golden eelworm and tolerant to blackleg
Potato (second early) Cosmos Resistant to blight and common scab
Osprey Very resistant to scab and eelworm
Potato (maincrop) Harmony Very resistant to scab and partially resistant to white and golden eelworm
Milva Blight resistant
Remarka Good all around disease resistance
Admiral Good resistance to blight and scab
Cara Blight resistant
Valor Good overall disease resistance combined with high eelworm and blight resistance
Pepper Bell Boy F1 Mosaic virus resistant
Mandy F1 Highly resistant to mosaic virus
Sweetcorn Golden sweet F1 Highly resistant to smut
Tomato Alicante Good resistance to greenback and mildew
Libra F1 Resistant to fusarium crown and root rot
Shirley F1 Resistant to fusarium, cladosporium and TMV

See also[edit]