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Industry Snapshot: Vanilla 2009 Conference Day 1

By: Rick Brownell, Virginia Dare
Posted: December 16, 2009

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Although amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) analysis has recently confirmed the limited genetic diversity of commercially grown vanilla, Grisoni said that there are other naturally occurring species, several of which empirically seem to show resistance to fusarium and other diseases. The ultimate goal would be to develop a hybrid that would provide resistance to Fusarium while maintaining the flavor and aroma characteristics of V. planifolia.

Finally, Grisoni touched on other plant pathogens including viruses, with Cymbidium mosaic virus (CYMmv) as an example. According to him, this virus, which has been found to be widespread in Madagascar, is not, on its own, believed to be harmful to vanilla, but it may weaken the vines, causing them to be more susceptible to other harmful diseases like Fusarium. On an encouraging note, Grisoni believed that CYMmv virus might be effectively controlled by simply identifying and selecting virus-free plants for new cuttings.

The next speaker was Aaron Isaacson, a.k.a. Mr. Recipe, a supplier of spices and vanilla to many of New York’s top restaurants and chefs, who offered a refreshing vanilla lemonade to all attendees.

A Different Approach

The final presentation of first day of the conference was by James Simon of Rutgers University, who offered a different perspective on the theme of the conference. He related some strategies for Fusarium control historically applied to other crops that might be transferable to vanilla. As an example, Simon discussed a screening technique that was used to test thousands of individual basil plants for Fusarium resistance—here the plants are inoculated with controlled, purified concentrations of the specific Fusarium species known to be harmful to the target plant. Any that survive are good candidates for selective breeding for Fusarium resistance, Simon said, adding that this approach has the advantages of being low tech, low cost and relatively fast. Another strategy that Simon described related to grafting the target plant onto a host plant that is Fusarium-resistant. This technique, he said, has been used successful with crops like apples and watermelons, with one major advantage being the retention of species identity.

The meeting came to an end with a cocktail hour and a poster session that provided the attendees an opportunity to share ideas generated by the presentations and discuss additional research topics presented in the posters.

Look for part two of Brownell’s report in P&Fnow.

For a list of the posters and abstracts, visit