WVU professor develops tomatoes resistant to fungus, blight
By ANNA TAYLOR
Mannon Gallegly, West Virginia University professor emeritus of plant pathology, has made it his mission to develop a disease-free tomato.
In conjunction with the 150th anniversary of the university and its first academic unit, the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, Gallegly and his research partner, Mahfuz Rahman, released two new varieties of tomato last month.
The tomatoes, identified as West Virginia ’17A and West Virginia ’17B, were obtained by breeding the tomatoes known as the West Virginia ’63 and the Iron Lady. Gallegly developed the W.Va. ’63 tomato in the 1960s as a tomato resistant to late blight, a plant disease usually caused by fungi. The Iron Lady tomato, developed by Martha Mutschler-Chu of Cornell University, also resists late blight but also Septoria lycopersici, a fungus that causes spotting on leaves.
Gallegly said the stink bug, specifically the marmorated stink bug, is the likely cause of Septoria increasing on tomatoes.
"We just crossed the two tomatoes and in the second generation in the field, we made selections for fruit type, yield, taste and so on," Gallegly said. "So we came up with two new varieties."
Through their evaluation, the two tomatoes should have a higher tolerance to Septoria leaf spot and better fruit quality.
Tomatoes are a specialty of Gallegly, who turns 94 this month.
He came to the University in 1949 as an assistant professor and was hired to become the vegetable plant pathologist for the state.
He spent his first fall and winter at the university collecting varieties of tomatoes and potatoes. The next year, he planted varieties of the two vegetables and discovered late blight was severe that year. So much so that he had zero tomato yield.
"That told me I had to go to work on trying to control this disease," he said.
After 13 years of screening the vegetables and research, he came up a new tomato in 1963 — the West Virginia ’63.
Gallegly officially retired from the University in 1986 but earned emeritus status and kept a presence at the college to continue research and teaching.
On March 24, the two new tomatoes were unveiled during the annual Potomac Division of the American Phytopathological Society meeting in Morgantown.
The college mailed 150 seed packets of both varieties to interested farmers and growers who wanted to provide feedback. Gallegly said that feedback will help determine the release of either line of tomato.
Growers are expected to grow and record the total yield, blight resistance, Septoria leaf spot resistance and taste. Seed packets are no longer available.
"After this coming summer we may want to drop one of them, but we will see," Gallegly said.