Scientists battle cold weather mold

St. Paul, MN (March 4, 2002) -- Its the last thing golf course managers want to see, but after winter snows have receded it can be all too common. Dead grass. Usually caused by fungi, called snow molds. The molds not only turn golf courses from green to brown, but often are responsible for the destruction of other valued plants as well, including winter wheat and evergreen trees. Scientists have recently discovered however, that by pitting one fungus against another, in a kind of under-snow warfare, they may have found a way of controlling the disease.

There are more than a dozen species of snow molds, all of which thrive in the dark, humid conditions found under a thick layer of snow. The longer the snow cover lasts the better, which is why the disease is more prevalent in colder climates.

Its ability to survive in tough conditions has also made it a tough disease to combat. Applying fungicides to kill snow mold is very costly and not very effective, says Jenifer Huang McBeath, a plant health scientist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station. Not only that, but the environments in which snow molds occur are often very fragile and highly sensitive to chemical use.

In an attempt to find a more effective and environmentally friendly solution, McBeath has discovered that another fungus, isolated from the sub-arctic region of Alaska, may offer hope. The fungus appears to prey on the most common forms of snow mold, using them as a food source. Whats even better is that it does this without harming the plants upon which the snow molds are living. This fungus is what we call a hyperparasite, says McBeath. It acts as a parasite on another parasite. And in this case ends up acting as a natural and very effective method of disease control as well.

In one experiment McBeath and colleagues treated sections of the Fairbanks Golf and Country Clubs golf course, where they commonly lost up to half of

Contact: Michelle Bjerkness
American Phytopathological Society

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