Crop Tech Corner

A High-Tech Fix for Fusarium

Emily Unglesbee
By  Emily Unglesbee , DTN Staff Reporter
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A fungicide that targets Fusarium genetically could help stave off resistance and limit off-target effects. (DTN photo by Nick Scalise)

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

GENE-BASED FUNGICIDE FOR FUSARIUM

An international science competition inspired a group of university students to propose a solution to Fusarium head blight, one of the world's most troublesome cereal diseases. The students, who attend the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, took home the gold at the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition in Boston this fall with their idea for a gene-based fungicide.

According to a university press release, the students used RNA-interference technology to target a part of the gene that allows Fusarium to grow within cells, killing the fungi and limiting any off-target effects. The student researchers believe they could quickly address the development of any resistant strains of Fusarium by tweaking what part of the gene the fungicide targets. To make the project affordable (producing RNA is very expensive), the team harvested their RNA from a harmless bacterial strain of E. coli. For more information, see the University of Lethbridge press release here: http://bit.ly/….

HELPING PLANTS PRIORITIZE

Letting only the young survive might seem callous, but it could be the key to surviving droughts for plants. Purdue researchers have found that encouraging a rice plant's tendency to discard old leaves and direct nutrients and water to the young, growing leaves vastly improves the crop's drought tolerance. According to a university press release, the scientists engineered plants to produce high levels of a protein known as PYL9, which made them highly sensitive to the presence of abscisic acid (ABA), a hormone that governs plants' reaction to stress. When confronted with a drought, these transgenic rice plants were much quicker to cut off resources to their older leaves and redirect them elsewhere. As a result, the transgenic rice ended a two-week drought with a 50% survival rate while only 10% of its wild rice counterparts survived. The researchers did not study yield, but they did find that the transgene had no effect on the development of rice plants facing normal growing conditions, which means it holds promise as a drought tolerance gene for conventional rice varieties.

For more information, see the press release here: http://bit.ly/… and the study here: http://bit.ly/….

GE SAFETY DEBATES

Monsanto's YieldGuard corn was the test case in a recent study aimed at closing the debate on how to best evaluate genetically engineered (GE) crops for human safety. The project, called the GMO Risk Assessment and Communication of Evidence project, was funded by the EU to examine the value of rat-feeding trials in the risk assessments of GE crops and consider whether they should be mandatory or not. According to a European Commission press release, scientists fed two groups of rats the corn, which contains Monsanto's Bt trait targeting the European corn borer. One group was fed for 90 days, the other for a full year. No adverse effects were found in either group. The scientists also concluded that such broad feeding studies could lead to "randomly generated significant differences between animals fed with the GM test material and animals fed with a controlled diet," which would distort a risk assessment. They recommended that the EU only allow animal feeding trials that are designed to target specific concerns raised by other means, such as molecular or agronomic studies of the crop.

See the press release here: http://bit.ly/…

Emily Unglesbee can be reached at emily.unglesbee@dtn.com

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Emily Unglesbee