LAS CRUCES, N.M. (KRQE) –  A New Mexico State University professor was awarded nearly $6 million to help reduce the risk of one of the most common plant pathogens in the United States.

Soum Sanogo, a professor of fungal plant pathology at NMSU, received a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to lead an interdisciplinary team of more than a dozen researchers from institutions across the country to develop a system-based approach to curb Phytophthora blight in peppers, cucurbits and other high-value crops.

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Phytophthora blight causes fruit rot, root rot, rapid wilting and plant death in many vegetables and fruits like melons, cucumbers, pumpkins, squash, peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, snap beans, lima beans, and others, according to NMSU. It is the biggest threat to the watermelon industry in the U.S. and poses risks in nearly every state, Sanogo said. “This is a major disease problem in every state producing vegetables in the United States,” he said. “Outside the U.S., you will find this disease on every continent.”

The project builds on Sanogo’s previous work as the director of NMSU’s Soilborne Disease Research Program. His primary research focuses on soilborne diseases in annual and perennial crops, according to a news release sent by NMSU.

Collaborators include Dennis Nicuh Lozada, NMSU’s chile pepper breeder and director the Chile Pepper Breeding and Genetics Program, Ram Acharya from NMSU’s Department of Agricultural Economics and Agricultural Business, Willis M. Fedio from the Center of Animal Health and Food Safety and Koffi Djaman from the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences. 

The other collaborating institutions include the University of Illinois, Alcorn State University, University of Florida, University of Arizona, Texas A&M University and Rutgers University.