Scientists have created a new citizen science app for iOS and Android users that is able to track the declining incidence of papaya ringspot virus (PRSV) in Honolulu.  The scientists also believe that there is a possible increase in the incidence of PRSV-resistant genetically engineered (GE) papayas. Dr Scot Nelson and Dr Richard Manshardt are the creators of the app and are scientists at the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.

The disease used to be common, from its initial emergence in the 1940s, right the way through to 2000. The rapid spread of the virus devastated the papaya industry on O’ahu during the 1960s and struck Big Island growers with 50% losses, only a few years back, in the 1990s. Now, though PRSV appears to be somewhat rare. This could be due to the fact that the genetically engineered “Rainbow” papaya, by CTAHR, Cornell and USDA researchers is resistant to the virus.  It was introduced in 1998 after widespread testing and has been grown commercially for the last 15 years. Five years ago about 77 percent of the industry consisted of Rainbow papaya or the related genetically engineered “SunUp,” also released by CTAHR.

GM Papaya

Nelson, who is a specialist in the Department of Plant and Environmental Protection Sciences, and Manshardt, a horticulturalist in the Department of Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences, are paying attention to how many papaya plants are growing in gardens or public areas that are genetically engineered.  If they plants that are growing are not genetically engineered, how many still harbour the virus? This is where their Pic-a-Papaya app project will help them to gather this information.

Users of the app are invited to visit the Pic-a-Papaya website and download the free app.  It works by allowing them to take pictures of papaya plants in the Honolulu metropolitan area, Hawai’i Kai to Kapolei, and then send them to Nelson and Manshardt for a diagnosis of PRSV. Each individual plant will be assessed and its GPS coordinates mapped. Users of the app can then view the map to see the distribution of infected plants.

The most likeable aspect of the project is that it offers free papaya seeds to any user who wishes to replace papaya plants that have been diagnosed with PRSV or have been determined to be genetically engineered strains. A choice of either non-genetically engineered seed with partial virus tolerance or virus-resistant Rainbow or SunUp genetically engineered seeds are available.

The iOS version of the app may be found the App Store. The Android version may be downloaded at Google Play Store.

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[Image via foodrepublic]

SOURCE: http://phys.org/news/2014-04-scientists-app-track-papaya-virus.html