Each year, farmers worldwide lose billions of dollars’ worth of crops to viruses spread from plant to plant by insects. For new CALS scientists Anna Whitfield and Dorith Rotenberg, knowing more about the molecular-level interplay among viruses, insect vectors and host plants could be key to developing better ways to protect farmers around the world from billions of dollars’ worth of crop loss.
With expertise and experience in exploring that interaction, the couple joined NC State’s Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology in July. They came from Kansas State University, where they co-directed the Center for Excellence for Vector-Borne Plant Virus Disease Control.
Among the factors drawing them to NC State: getting to work in a department that merges their interests in entomology and plant pathology, CALS’ commitment to a plant sciences initiative, and the Chancellor’s Faculty Excellence Program, which brings together clusters of interdisciplinary researchers to focus on key issues of global interest.
Whitfield is a professor in the Emerging Plant Diseases and Global Food Security cluster, led by CALS plant pathologist Jean Ristaino, and Rotenberg is an associate professor.
Rotenberg has made significant headway in her molecular exploration of western flower thrips and the tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV). Meanwhile, Whitfield is finding out more about how the virus gets into the insect so she can find ways to stop its spread. TSWV can devastate an array of crops – field crops, flowers and vegetables, both here in North Carolina and beyond.
Each of them also conducts research into other virus-insect-plant systems.
“With the multidisciplinary expertise of the team and the department,” Whitfield says, “I think we can expand our efforts to address some of the important problems with plant diseases and, one day, solve them.”