Crop Tech Corner

New U.S. Corn Disease Gets Fresh Funds

Emily Unglesbee
By  Emily Unglesbee , DTN Staff Reporter
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Researchers recently received a grant to investigate a new U.S. corn disease, bacterial leaf streak, which has surfaced in nine states since 2016. (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.

NEW U.S. CORN DISEASE GETS FRESH FUNDS

Don't worry if the name "bacterial leaf streak" is new to you. It's new to most American plant pathologists, too. The corn disease first surfaced in nine states in 2016, and researchers have been racing to understand its impact on cornfields ever since. A grant of nearly $150,000 to Colorado State University from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) should help. Along with the Universities of Nebraska and Illinois, Colorado State is matching that grant for a total of nearly $300,000.

The grant will help researchers investigate how the disease spreads, what treatment or prevention options might be available to farmers, as well as its genetic characteristics. Any information would be helpful given how little is known about the disease at this point. So far, its impact hasn't been too significant, but it is cause for some concern, said Colorado State University plant pathologist Kirk Broders, who is leading the project. "We have seen moderate yield losses on some of the most susceptible varieties in areas of northeast Colorado and southeast Nebraska, where the disease seems to be the most severe," he told DTN.

The project has also garnered support from the Colorado Corn Administrative Committee and the Nebraska Corn Board, according to a press release from FFAR.

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

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See DTN's reporting on bacterial leaf streak here: http://bit.ly/… and here: http://bit.ly/…

HITTING THE GENE LOTTERY

Three for the price of one is always a good deal. So North Carolina State University plant scientists are rightfully proud of their latest discovery -- a corn gene that is associated with resistance to not one, but three major corn diseases. According to a university press release, the gene appears to confer partial resistance to southern corn leaf blight, gray leaf spot and possibly northern corn leaf blight. All three diseases attack the surface of corn leaves and chip away at yield with tissue-eating lesions.

The search for the gene was a long and challenging one -- one scientist likened it to driving around a city looking for a single restaurant, with no maps or GPS. Its disease resistance effects are small, but that's to be expected, said Peter Balint-Kurti, a USDA plant pathologist and geneticist who works at North Carolina State and helped author the study. "It's difficult to see these small effects, but it is also difficult for pathogens to adapt to counter them," he said in the release. "Much of the resistance to southern leaf blight and gray leaf spot is conferred by multiple genes that each have small effects."

See the press release, along with the study abstract, here: http://bit.ly/…

SORGHUM AIMS FOR THE SKIES

Sorghum is usually praised for the scrappy, workhorse characteristics that make it ideal for regions with minimal rainfall and marginal soils. But scientists from the Universities of Nebraska and Illinois have sky-high ambitions for the humble grain plant, specifically, jet fuel.

Scientists from both institutions are working with the newly founded Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation, based at the University of Illinois. According to a UNL news release, the researchers will receive more than $4 million over the next five years to genetically engineer sorghum plants to produce more oil and less starch in their stems and leaves. The goal is to create an oil-producing crop that would thrive on acres that can't support more demanding row crops.

"The idea is that you wouldn't be displacing land now used to grow corn, soybeans and cotton," said UNL plant biotechnology specialist Tom Clemente, who is leading Nebraska's part of the project. "You could grow sorghum on marginal lands and have all of its oil used for industrial purposes."

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

Read more about the new research center here: http://bit.ly/…

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

Follow Emily Unglesbee on Twitter @Emily_Unglesbee

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Emily Unglesbee