Abby ag lab
Vippen Joshi has seen many changes and examinedmany thousands of samples during her 25 years at the facility. By Judie Steeves
he plant diagnostic pathologist in the Ministry of Agriculture’s plant health laboratory says she loves her job as an investigator, trying to puzzle out the cause of plant health problems for growers concerned about their crops. “I’m not bored with my job,” says Vippen Joshi, explaining that every day presents a new problem, which makes her work always interesting. “And you know there’s a grower who is waiting for answers; it’s their livelihood,” she adds.
She’s seen lots of changes during the 25 years she’s been working at the lab, but she says there’s still always something new. That’s half the time the facility has been in operation as it celebrates 50 years this year since it was originally established in Cloverdale by plant pathologist Dave Ormrod. His first submission was handwritten in a spiral notebook, a technique that’s far from the computer-generated data of today.
In 1995, the lab was relocated to the Abbotsford Agriculture Centre, where it is now, helping to identify plant health problems on more than 200 different commercial crops grown throughout the province. Services are mainly for commercial growers and agri-
Vippen Joshi, diagnostic pathologist at the plant health branch of the agriculture ministry in Abbotsford.
businesses serving the industry, but a small number of plant samples are also submitted by ministry staff, other government agencies and hobby growers.
The total recorded number of commercial crop samples diagnosed since 1967 is 30,000 and an estimated 150,000 slides have been examined in those 50 years. Joshi explains that it can
sometimes be difficult in the field to identify a plant health issue, particularly since the same symptoms can result from different plant health issues. However, in the lab she has equipment which helps her analyze factors that can identify even look-alike issues, using tools such as traditional microscopes, to more sophisticated tools such as ELISA (enzyme-linked
immunosorbent assay). ELISA is a test that detects and measures antibodies and plant diseases. This is similar to blood tests that are used to detect infectious agents in humans and animals.
Other diagnostic methods include DNA-based testing, including sequencing of specific genes, and electron microscopy. A single sample may require up to 30 tests
to diagnose the problem. In addition, there’s the training and experience of the diagnostic pathologist such as Joshi, which can help to pin down the cause of a plant health issue.
Although the lab is located in Abbotsford, she handles samples sent from tree fruit and grape growers in the interior of the province as well.
Occasionally, there are some odd issues, but often they are pathogens she is familiar with, from fungal issues to bacterial ones, cankers, viruses and insects, including nematodes.
“With any pest or disease the environment is just one factor, but with a changing environment, there are also changing plant health issues. Even timing of
environmental factors may lead to changes in what issues there are. Organisms find the host they need,” Joshi explains.
She describes it as a triangle shaped by three factors: pest, plant variety and environmental conditions. All have to be there at the right time to provide the right conditions for particular pests to become a problem in the field.
British Columbia FRUIT GROWER • Fall-Winter 2017 19
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