Natalia Peres, a plant pathologist professor at University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, is working with other scientists to create a machine that uses ultraviolet light to suppress plant diseases and pests at night. ( Courtesy of UF/IFAS )

Natalia Peres envisions a day when light from a machine resembling a spacecraft helps prevent powdery mildew from damaging strawberries.

Peres, a professor of plant pathology at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, works with a global group of scientists studying how to use ultraviolet light to suppress plant pathogens, according to a news release. Powdery mildew is one such pathogen.

Peres and researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Cornell University — both in New York state — as well as scientists from Norway are pioneering the research, according to the release. ultraviolet lamps are widely used in water purification and microbiological sterilization, but they’re not yet commonly used for plant-pathogen suppression, according to a USDA news release announcing the grant for the research last year. 

“UV treatments applied once or twice weekly were as effective as the best available fungicides applied on similar schedules for control of strawberry powdery mildew,” Peres said in the release. “It’s not a one-time fluke. The trials have been repeated successfully for three seasons now.”

The new technology has been tested at UF/IFAS Gulf Coast REC strawberry fields and at Wish Farms in Duette, Fla. Similar trials are being conducted across North America and Europe by research collaborators on crops such as grapes, hops and cucumbers, Peres said in the release.

The research has been supported by grants from the USDA Specialty Crops Research Initiative, the USDA Organic Research and Extension Initiative, the Norwegian Research Council and state and regional commodity groups.