My name’s Bob Gilbertson. I’m a professor of plant pathology in the department of plant pathology at the University of California at Davis.
My research interests are in the general area of plant viruses. Many of these are transmitted by insect vectors which are a major problem in agricultural production in the United States as well as worldwide.
The objective of my research is to understand the nature of these viruses – that is to characterize them, develop methods for efficient and rapid detection, understand their biology and genetics, and ultimately develop varieties of plants that will hopefully resist infection by these viruses so farmers can use them in a sustainable production system and minimize losses due to infection by these plant-infecting viruses.
These viruses that we're talking about – particularly the ones that are transmitted by white flies – are one of the most important plant-infecting viruses in the world, and they’re particularly damaging in tropical and sub-tropical areas where white flies are prevalent. Less-developed countries are really susceptible to virus infection and other disease problems.
Furthermore, in many of these countries, agriculture is the primary driving force of the economy, so losses due to diseases such as plant viruses can really devastate the economy of some of these less-developed countries.
Take, for example, tomato: the second-most important vegetable crop. This is a crop that originated in South America but it’s grown throughout the world today. There’s many virus diseases that impact tomato production throughout the world including the viruses I work on.
So by developing sustainable methods that are not dependent primarily on the use of insecticides, we are able to develop approaches called ‘integrated pest management approaches' that utilize sustainable methods such as resistant varieties, crop-free periods, good sanitation, improved detection and understanding of virus biology, and develop packages – IPM packages – that’ll let farmers in less-developed countries grow their crops with a minimum loss due to these viruses, but not rely on using costly and environmentally-unfriendly pesticides and insecticides. And for me, that’s one of the most important things we do, is develop these IPM packages, get them out to farmers, and see them implemented in the field.
We’re doing that in California, as well as countries in West Africa, countries in Central and South America, as well as Asia so we get a lot of satisfaction when we can see these programs actually helping farmers increase their yields and reducing the use of pesticides.
By having this growth chamber facility, it’s really allowed us to do many of the things that we’ve been able to do. So, it’s really a critical, critical facility. And you know, when it first was built, I think, you know, some people said, “Oh are you gonna be able to – are you sure that we’re gonna use all these growth chambers?” And I’ll tell you, they were filled up like that and then it was like, “Okay, where are we gonna expand? How are we gonna expand?” So, you know, just proves to you that the demand for the growth chambers and, you know, the quality of the researchers here to be able to you know, fill them up and do top-quality research.