Phill Wharton is a Late Blight Hunter. These days you will most likely find him in a SE Asia potato field, his expert eyes trained to spot the circular to irregularly shaped brown lesions that can be a tell-tale sign that the plant has been assailed by late blight disease.
Trailing Phill are his “hunters”, other pathologists or fellow project team members recruited by Phill. Although the team members specialties may not even be scientific in nature, Phill enlists them all. “You don’t have to be a pathologist to track late blight” Phill says. “You just have to be willing to get your boots a bit muddy or soaking wet if you don’t wear a raincoat.” His UK accent is light and cheery, almost infectious. However, nowhere near as infectious as late blight, the devastating disease that can destroy entire crops within weeks.
In his role as the lead pathologist for the Feed the Future Biotechnology Potato Partnership, Phill is on a crusade to identify, track and document the different strains of late blight across the regions of Indonesia and Bangladesh. Yet the project he supports is expected to put Phill and his team of intrepid Late Blight Hunters out of a job with the commercialization and release of a GMO potato that is resistant to late blight.
“The impact a late blight resistant potato will have on smallholder farmers in Indonesia and Bangladesh will be substantial. The reduction in fungicide use is a real game changer allowing growers to cut sprays by up to 90%, reducing the health risks and protecting the environment, while maintaining or even improving potato yields”
says Wharton. Until then you’ll find Phill amidst the fields, paper bag in hand, searching for just one more late blight sample.
Learn more about Phill and his work by viewing the complete article