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The virus buster - a living treasure

Media Release
Hort Research
October 1999

The virus buster - a living treasure

Catching viruses or catching waves Garry Wood is having an active retirement. He is probably the only field biologist still around in New Zealand. Certainly he is this county's only active authority of fruit tree and small fruit viruses.

Though officially retired Garry is still working at almost the same job he has been doing for more than 42 years. A "remarkable" researcher with HortResearch he has spent most of his working life tracking down fruit viruses, and although he has now turned his attention to the Cabbage Tree Decline problem, it is still fruit infections that are his first expertise. Garry is described by his HortResearch colleagues as a "living treasure", the sort of person who is the "back bone of the institute".

Since he first started work at the Mt Albert Research Centre for DSIR, Garry has been involved in virus detection. Tedious surveys of fruit trees throughout the country with the need to test all the samples finally lead to the discovery that most apple, pear and stone fruit trees had about six different viruses in them.

This was an important find for the pip and stone fruit industries in New Zealand. Garry undertook the painstaking research involved in eliminating these six that resulted in all the important cultivars being freed from virus infection. It was the start of the programme now in place of planting commercial orchards with cultivars and rootstocks free from these diseases.

Garry was asked to investigate the disease testing procedures in the then MAF/DSIR Plant Quarantine at Mt Albert and it was his meticulous efforts through introducing indexing procedures that resulted, in addition to detecting a number of minor viruses, in the detection of Plum Pox virus and Tomato Ring Spot virus in imports.

He had not wanted this job but felt "vindicated" when he picked up the two serious diseases.

"They would have been devastating for the NZ fruit industry, as their insect vectors are already present here," Garry said.

After 40 years of this intense type of work, Garry retired, but the retirement was short lived and he is back at HortResearch on contract.

Naturally he has amassed vast knowledge on the subject. He has several publications to his credit, including two bulletins each containing 20 years' worth of gathered information. The most resent published last year in 1998 is "Virus and Virus-like Diseases and Non-infectious Disorders of Small Fruits in NZ". This deals with berry fruit and describes methods of detection, identity and control.

Garry was an invited co-author, with 19 other experts, of a UN Food and Agricultural organisation book on various diseases of fruit. He has been a co-author of two other books and been author or part author of 70 publications for scientific journals or trade journals.

In recent years he has been involved in phytoplasma disease work, particularly of native trees i.e. Cabbage Tree Decline.

You might think that a man who knows every fruit tree disease might have an extensive orchard of his own, but not so. Now in his 60s Garry prefers to spend his spare time following more active hobbies. For many years he flew light plans, he has a continuing love affair with motor bikes and regularly rides one to work plus he goes sailing and surf boarding. A couple of year's back he headed to the Caribbean to go surfing and last year he caught the waves along Australia's coast. In more reflective moments he picks up a paint brush and has produced some excellent land- and seascapes.
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A photograph of Gary with his motor bike is available as a jpg.

For further information contact:
Liz Brook,
Communications Manager,
Private Bag 11 -030
Palmerston North
Tel: 06 351 7000 Ex 7749
Fax: 06 351 7038

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