Strawberry fields will be forever thanks to summer intern from Mexico

Hosted by

Edel Pérez López, Department of Plant Sciences, Laval University

The Intern

Dagoberto Torres García, Biotechnology, Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey, Mexico

The Research

Funded by the Quebec Ministry of Agriculture, Fishing and Food (MAPAQ), the research team is the first to successfully identify and characterize the leafhoppers carrying the dangerous pathogen responsible for the emerging disease affecting Quebec strawberry crops and have also discovered more than five leafhopper genus never reported in Canada before

A Mexican biotechnology student is helping Quebec strawberry farmers combat an emerging group of pests threatening the livelihood of crops worldwide

Dagoberto Torres García, a biotechnology student at Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey in Mexico, is spending the summer in Quebec putting his knowledge and expertise in DNA extraction and PCR testing to help identify which insects are carrying a bacterium responsible for spreading a new, harmful disease affecting strawberry fields in Quebec, in Canada, and around the world. One of a nearly 2,200 international undergraduate students taking part in the Mitacs Globalink Research Internship across the country, García is completing a 12-week research internship at Laval University in Québec City under the supervision of Edel Pérez López, a plant pathologist, assistant professor, and principal investigator at EdeLab, to understand how climate change is causing the bugs to show up in new areas.

This original research — jointly funded by Mitacs and the Quebec Ministry of Agriculture, Fishing and Food (MAPAQ) — is the first of its kind to successfully identify and characterize the pathogen responsible for the emerging disease. Not only that, García, López, and their team have discovered more than five leafhopper varieties that have never been reported in Canada before, a phenomenon they suspect is due to the shift in insect migration patterns caused by global warming.

“Right now, farmers don’t know if it’s one insect or several insects that are causing the problem, or how factors like temperature are contributing,” says García, whose interest in sustainable agriculture stems from his family’s alfalfa, corn, and dairy productions in Mexico.

Curbing the spread 

With their combined backgrounds in biotechnology and plant pathology, and in close collaboration with Laval University students Jean Durivage, Nicolas Plante, and Anne-Sophie Brochu, García and López are applying their skills and expertise on insect samples they’ve collected from Quebec strawberry fields to determine which varieties of leafhoppers are carrying the harmful pathogen.

“Our goal is to identify why this is happening, including which bacteria is responsible, which pest is carrying it, and what can be done to curb disease spread in a sustainable way,” says López. “Once we have that knowledge, we will be able to advise growers on the best disease management strategies to combat this harmful pest in an environmentally friendly way.”

Despite its well-earned reputation as Canada’s strawberry-producing powerhouse, according to Statistics Canada, Quebec strawberry production is gradually decreasing and currently sits 16 percent below the record high set as recently as 2017. Responsible for more than half of all strawberries grown the country, Quebec has had to increase its use of insecticides to combat the sharp increase in leafhoppers.

An innovation win-win

With his 12-week internship well underway, the opportunity to study in Canada and contribute meaningfully to making farming more sustainable is a task García takes seriously.

“Most people don’t think about how problematic farming can be. They just see the crops, or the berries in the store, and think it’s as simple as planting seeds and watching them grow,” he explains. “I’d like to help change that and make more people aware of the importance of crop management.”

“The molecular screening of hundreds of insects is important work that is helping to advance our project at a quicker pace,” adds López. “At the same time, Dagoberto is gaining valuable lab experience that wouldn’t have been as accessible to him back home.”

As one of over 600 students completing Mitacs Globalink Internships in Quebec this summer, García plans to one day pursue his graduate studies at Laval University.

“The Mitacs Globalink Internships is an amazing opportunity to make industry and funding connections and to find talented undergrads who might not learn about his lab otherwise,” says López. “It’s an innovation win-win.”

John Hepburn, CEO of Mitacs, expressed that the Globalink Research Internship not only helps participants gain research experience in Canada, but it helps advance innovation and creates attractive opportunities for international students.

“Mitacs is very proud to support students through its Globalink Research Internship so that research like Dagoberto’s will ultimately help people in Quebec, in Canada and across the globe,” says Hepburn.

Mitacs’s programs receive funding from valued partners across Canada. We thank the Government of Canada, the Government of Alberta, the Government of British Columbia, Research Manitoba, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, Innovation PEI, the Government of Quebec, the Government of Saskatchewan, and the Government of Yukon for supporting us to foster innovation and economic growth throughout the country. 

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