NY teen wins $250k for his math model based on Israeli farmers' research

Using disease data and weather patterns gathered from farmers in Israel, the student was able to predict where the spores from the late blight genome would spread.

By REUTERS
April 11, 2018 14:45
2 minute read.

NYC teen scientist wins $250k for his math model on potato late blight based on Israeli farmers' research (Reuters)

NYC teen scientist wins $250k for his math model on potato late blight based on Israeli farmers' research (Reuters)

 
X

Dear Reader,
As you can imagine, more people are reading The Jerusalem Post than ever before. Nevertheless, traditional business models are no longer sustainable and high-quality publications, like ours, are being forced to look for new ways to keep going. Unlike many other news organizations, we have not put up a paywall. We want to keep our journalism open and accessible and be able to keep providing you with news and analyses from the frontlines of Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World.

As one of our loyal readers, we ask you to be our partner.

For $5 a month you will receive access to the following:

  • A user experience almost completely free of ads
  • Access to our Premium Section
  • Content from the award-winning Jerusalem Report and our monthly magazine to learn Hebrew - Ivrit
  • A brand new ePaper featuring the daily newspaper as it appears in print in Israel

Help us grow and continue telling Israel’s story to the world.

Thank you,

Ronit Hasin-Hochman, CEO, Jerusalem Post Group
Yaakov Katz, Editor-in-Chief

UPGRADE YOUR JPOST EXPERIENCE FOR 5$ PER MONTH Show me later

New York student Benjy Firester won a $250,000 science prize last month for his mathematical model on the spread of late blight - the plant pathogen that sparked the Irish potato famine of the 1840s and 1850s. His model could be used to prevent crop damage in the future based .

Late blight causes "billions of dollars of damage and epidemics all over the world and this can all be stopped if farmers had the adequate information as to how and when the disease spreads," Firester told Reuters on Monday (April 9).

Be the first to know - Join our Facebook page.


"Within just a few days, it can destroy an entire field and it can mutate very quickly and really get out of hand," he said. "And that's why there are no current models to predict it because it's really so awful to predict because of how quickly it spreads. So it's really important that farmers are stopping the disease in the beginning of its progression before it reaches epidemic levels where it's unstoppable through any methods."

Using disease data and weather patterns gathered from farmers in Israel, Firester was able to predict where the spores from the late blight genome would spread. Farmers can use his program to input their own data and track spores in the wind, apply fungicides at the proper time and "once it tells them they're at risk, they should be spraying ideally in the night or sometime before the morning, because the morning is when the spores are in the air," he said. "So it's a day-to-day system, really."

The late blight genome behind the Irish potato famine has been such a formidable foe because it's loaded with extra DNA that allows it to quickly adapt to overcome any defense the host plant might mount. Nearly 75 percent of the genome is filled with repetitive DNA that appears to evolve quickly, allowing for the rapid development of genes that can attack plant hosts.


The disease, spread by spores, remains a threat to global food security. In the United States, it is currently killing potato and tomato plants in home gardens from Maine to Ohio and threatening commercial and organic farms.

It causes large mold-ringed olive-green or brown spots on leaves and blackened stems and can wipe out a crop in days.

Beating out 1,800 seniors from 555 high schools, the 18-year-old Hunter College High School student's project, "Modeling the Spatio-Temporal Dynamics of Phytophthora infestans at a Regional Scale," took home the top prize at the prestigious Regeneron Science Talent Search, founded and produced by Society for Science & the Public since 1942. His paper is published in Plant Pathology, an international journal edited by the British Society for Plant Pathology.

Firester will join his sister Kalia, who was runner-up at the talent search three years ago, at Harvard University in the fall.

Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>

Related Content

Dollar and shekel, side by side
December 18, 2018
Shekel at weakest against dollar in two years

By GLOBES/SIMON GRIVER