Funding combats ill dahlias

Kayla Bonar | Evergreen reporter

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In hope of eliminating multiple viruses that plague dahlias, a flower related to the daisy family, Scheetz Chuey Charitable Foundation gave Washington State University $350,000 for research purposes.

This donation was provided upon special request from late dahlia farmer Carl Chuey. Carl told his brother James Chuey, who is also a dahlia farmer, that he wanted a sizable amount of money donated specifically to WSU, after his death, to find cures for dahlia viruses.

James donated the money to Hanu Pappu, a WSU virology professor, and his team of researchers. Pappu and his team are working to eradicate viral diseases in plants.

Harriett Chandler, a dahlia farmer who grew dahlias with Carl for more than fifteen years, said Carl was always willing to share his time and knowledge to assist fellow growers.

For twelve years, Pappu has investigated numerous infections which are harmful to dahlias. The funds donated by James Chuey will assist the progression of Pappu’s research.

Carl chose WSU because of the unique virus genomics and biotechnology program, his brother said. Carl wanted to support research already being conducted by Pappu, James said, rather than investing in his own research project.

Pappu said WSU’s program is the only one of its kind in the country.

While more than a dozen dahlia viruses exist, Pappu works to cure the tomato spotted wilt virus, the dahlia mosaic virus, the dahlia common mosaic virus and the impatiens necrotic spot virus.

He focuses on these four viruses because they are the most prevalent and cause the most damage the flower.

One of the most important aspects of dahlia research, Pappu said, was identifying the virus.

In his research, Pappu employs multiple virus-specific methods of identification. These methods are used widely for pathogen detection; however, he adapts the processes to meet his specific needs. All of these methods are meant to be fast-acting and specific to whichever virus Pappu is treating in the plant.

While some viruses are spread by insects, others are spread through multiple plants by fungi.

One of the most popular ways infection spreads is the exporting and importing of infected plants, Pappu said, which many growers do unknowingly.

Pappu’s end goal from the project is to find a treatment, such as a spray so if a virus was detected early enough, the plants could be saved.

Currently, the department of pathology’s immediate goal is to stop the spread of infection.