"A number of rice farms in Jefferson, Colorado, Chambers and Wharton counties of Texas had significant losses due to panicle blight," Zhou said. "And that region accounts for about 60 percent of the total rice production in the state. Panicle blight was also found in various research plots and affected several different varieties of rice."

Zhou said bacterial panicle blight, which was first described in Japan in 1967, is now known to exist in China, Korea, Latin America, the Philippines and Vietnam as well as the U.S., where it was first identified in 1996. It is caused by the bacterium Burkholderia glumae.

The disease form of panicle blight occurs sporadically on individual plants, Zhou said, or can appear in circular or oval patterns across a field. Florets infected with bacterial panicle blight are discolored from light green to light brown on the base then reddish-brown in the middle. The upper portion later turns straw colored. The disease can cause linear lesions on the sheaths and lead to sheath or stem rot.

Bacterial panicle blight spreads primarily by splashing and wind-blown rain, he added.

"The bacterium invades germinated seeds, inhabits the roots and lower sheaths, and moves up the growing plant," Zhou said. "The bacterium colonizes and multiplies in spikelets quickly by using the sugars developing in the grains."

Because the disease does not occur in yield-cutting levels most years, little is known about the disease’s cycle, treatment or prevention methods, Zhou said.