Genetic Improvement of Crops

The majority of important crop plants, including soybean, maize, lettuce and likely switchgrass, rely on single-gene resistance to various diseases. However, this type of resistance often breaks down when the pathogen population loses or mutates the effector proteins. This instability in pathogen effector proteins has been the biggest challenge in controlling serious losses to plant disease, requiring breeders to repeatedly develop new varieties with different resistance genes. Therefore, a long-time goal for agricultural crop protection has been broad-spectrum “durable” resistance. A UGA plant pathologist believes the most efficient method to control serious losses to diseases is to grow disease resistant varieties. The scientist's broad research interests lie in the improvement of crop plants for disease resistance by first understanding the molecular and genetic basis of resistance durability and then the use of this knowledge to develop or improve strategies for durable and stable resistance to leaf rust diseases, including common/southern rust of maize and Asian Soybean Rust. This new knowledge base will direct discussion and initial steps to enhance natural resistance mechanisms in maize and switchgrass and similar crops.