Skip to Main Content

Purdue expert warned of coffee rust threat, part of FFAR project to protect Hawaii's coffee trees

With looming threats of coffee leaf rust to farmers’ yields, Purdue University mycologist Catherine Aime is working to protect this staple of daily lives and the economies of areas throughout the world.

Aime and colleagues warned of the potential threat to the coffee industry in June. She now is part of a team supported by the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) and led by the Synergistic Hawaii Agriculture Council to investigate the fungus that causes the disease and to develop tactics to counter it.

Aime leads a team of researchers that will sequence the coffee leaf rust genome to inform breeding of coffee cultivars resistant to the fungus or to develop fungicides based on the disease’s genetic weaknesses.

“Coffee rust has already caused a lot of devastation to the small shareholder farmers in Central America and the Caribbean that depend on coffee for their income,” she said. “Along with cacao, it is one of the tropical cropping systems that is really vulnerable to perturbations, such as is expected with changing climates, which has vast socioeconomic implications.”

Coffee leaf rust, which is caused by the fungus Hemileia vastatrix, attacks the leaves of coffee trees, reducing yields and damaging the trees. First discovered in Hawaii in late 2020, it has caused billions of dollars in damage to farms in Central and South America since 2011.

Aimea professor in the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology, is the only academic mycologist in the nation who broadly specializes on the order of fungi that cause rust diseases. She also is a pioneer in the identification of fungi that cannot be put into culture and is an expert on fungi in tropical ecosystems.

These coffee leaves are covered in coffee leaf rust, a fungal pathogen that leads to defoliation and reduced yields. Without proper management, coffee leaf rust can spread quickly and threaten coffee crops around the world. (Purdue University photo/courtesy of Catherine Aime) These coffee leaves are covered in coffee leaf rust, a fungal pathogen that leads to defoliation and reduced yields. Without proper management, coffee leaf rust can spread quickly and threaten coffee crops around the world. (Purdue University photo/courtesy of Catherine Aime)

Featured Stories

Professor works in lab at Purdue
Purdue-led fishing expedition nets new pupfish family member in New Mexico

Scientists have identified a new member on the genetic family tree of an endangered pupfish...

Read More
pots of spruce and other native trees sit in the bed of a wooden trailer behind the Grounds Department Truck
Thousands of trees, hundreds of volunteers, five years and one giant leap for the Purdue Arboretum

The clayey Indiana soil, still saturated from the last spring shower, squishes under shovels. The...

Read More
Yellow flowers against a leafy green background
April showers bring May flowers to Jules Janick Horticulture Garden

The sweet smell of hundreds of blossoms draws pollinators and people alike to the Jules Janick...

Read More
Bob Auber presents from a screen titled "A Day in the Life." In the foreground, there are two graduate students watching.
‘Plants to people:’ Bob Auber’s path from the Center for Plant Biology to oncology

On Friday March 22, Bob Auber returned to Room 116 in Whistler Hall to stand behind a podium in...

Read More
Measuring soil in a field
New Indiana Organic Network to engage farmers in statewide soil health census

A Purdue University interdisciplinary team is establishing a network of organic farmers to...

Read More
Bob and Karen Thompson walking side-by-side while smiling at each other and holding hands
Funding endowed chair in agricultural economics reflects couple’s global vision brought home: “Purdue is special in our lives”

Bob and Karen Thompson have operated as a team, both throughout their 55-year marriage and in...

Read More
To Top