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Live plant pathogens can travel on dust across oceans

Cornell Chronicle

By Krishna Ramanujan, Cornell Chronicle
Plant pathogens can hitch rides on dust and remain viable, with the potential for traveling across the planet to infect areas far afield, a finding with important implications for global food security and for predicting future outbreaks.

A study, “Assessing Long-distance Atmospheric Transport of Soilborne Plant Pathogens,” published Sept. 25 in the journal Environmental Research Letters, is the first to provide computer modeling evidence to support the idea that massive dust storms can transport viable pathogenic spores across continents and oceans.

The Earth system model simulated a major dust storm, nicknamed “Godzilla,” that brought some 24 million tons of dust from North Africa across the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean and southeastern United States in summer 2022.

The researchers found that viable spores of the deadly fungal plant pathogen Fusarium oxysporum (F. oxy) could be transported across the ocean and were likely deposited across a range of regions that include agricultural production zones, most significantly in southeastern Louisiana, Mexico, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, with particularly high risk in Cuba. 

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