Crop Tech Corner

Diving Into Cuban Gene Pools

Emily Unglesbee
By  Emily Unglesbee , DTN Staff Reporter
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Cuban gene pools may hold valuable traits for disease, pest, and drought resistance, particularly for dry bean breeders. (DTN photo by Nick Scalise)

ROCKVILLE, Md. (DTN) -- This bi-monthly column condenses the latest news in the field of crop technology, research and products.


Cuba's long isolation from the modern world and the recent resumption of diplomatic relations with the U.S. has brought a scientific bonus: valuable new gene pools with disease- and pest-resistance potential. The biggest winners of this genetic lottery are breeders of dry beans, one of Cuba's most important crops. Tennessee State University plant geneticist Matthew Blair recently co-authored a study which examined 210 common bean commercial varieties and cultivars from Cuba. According to a news release from the Alliance of Crop, Soil, and Environmental Science Societies (ACSESS), Blair believes the two genetic subgroups of beans that have been grown on the island during Cuba's long isolation will be a rich source of genetic resistance to Caribbean pests. They could also play a role in breeding beans for climate change, because Cuban beans must mature rapidly and grow well under high heat. Cuban farming practices might also hold some important lessons in sustainability for American farmers, Blair added. With little access to modern agricultural chemicals and pesticides, farmers had to become experts in low-input forms of farming that favor bio-control and organic practices.

For more information, see Blair's study on dry beans here:…and the ACSESS news release here:….


A new study on herbicide safeners in grain sorghum has given University of Illinois researchers a surprising insight into how crops defend themselves against injury. (Herbicide safeners are chemical compounds added to herbicides or applied to crop seed to minimize the effect of the herbicide on a crop.) According to a university news release, the study was led by University of Illinois crop scientists Dean Riechers and Pat Brown. They examined grain sorghum lines that had been alternately treated with herbicide and safener, just the herbicide, just the safener or nothing at all. The plants treated with both the herbicide and the safener (as a seed treatment) accumulated large amounts of proteins called GSTs in the coleoptile -- the plant's protective sheath covering the growing point. This suggests the safeners trigger a rapid metabolism of the herbicide before it can reach the heart of the plant. But to the researchers' surprise, some of the sorghum plants that were not treated with safeners showed this same GST accumulation and avoided herbicide damage. "Through this project, we're finding some varieties that don't even need the safener because they are naturally tolerant," Brown explained in the press release.

Now the researchers are hunting for the naturally occurring "genetic switch" that safeners trigger in plants. They hope it could allow breeders to create plants that can use this mechanism to resist a variety of pests, such as drought, disease or insects. They're also hoping to gain an understanding of why safeners only work in certain plants. "To figure why dicot plants, like soybean and cotton, don't respond to safeners would be the Holy Grail," Riechers said.

For more information, see the press release here:….


There's an app for everything, even in agriculture. One Kansas State University professor has sorted through the gamut of mobile apps targeted toward farming and identified the useful ones for growers. Ignacio Ciampitti, an Extension crop production and technology specialist, favors apps that are free to download, which allows farmers to test them out before subscribing to a paid, premium version. The apps usually fall into 10 categories he has organized, including apps for pest identification, calculation assistance, scouting, economic monitoring, field guides, livestock monitoring, irrigation monitoring, and machinery help. Because apps change and new ones are constantly popping up, Ciampitti is using KSU's agronomy e-updates to keep growers up to date on what's available.

You can find links to each category of apps, with Ciampitti's most recent recommendations, here:…. You can find the website for KSU's agronomy e-updates here:….

Emily Unglesbee can be reached at

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Emily Unglesbee