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Northern corn leaf blight genes identified in new study

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Midwestern corn growers know the symptoms of northern corn leaf blight all too well: greenish-gray lesions on the leaves that can add up to major yield losses if not detected and treated early. Resistance genes have been identified in corn, but the fungal disease has found ways to sneak around corn’s defenses. Now, researchers have figured out how the fungus is outsmarting corn, and they may be able to use this information to help corn fight back.

“We were looking for genes in the fungus that trigger disease in corn. With this information, corn breeders could someday build more durable resistance in future hybrids,” says Santiago Mideros, plant pathologist in the Department of Crop Sciences at the University of Illinois.

Midwestern corn growers know the symptoms of northern corn leaf blight all too well: greenish-gray lesions on the leaves that can add up to major yield losses if not detected and treated early. Resistance genes have been identified in corn, but the fungal disease has found ways to sneak around corn’s defenses. Now, researchers have figured out how the fungus is outsmarting corn, and they may be able to use this information to help corn fight back.

“We were looking for genes in the fungus that trigger disease in corn. With this information, corn breeders could someday build more durable resistance in future hybrids,” says Santiago Mideros, plant pathologist in the Department of Crop Sciences at the University of Illinois.

In a new study published in the journal Phytopathology, Mideros and his colleagues identified two of the genes that cause disease in corn. But in order to understand the significance of the results, it’s important to know how fungal and corn genes interact.

Several genes help corn resist different strains of northern corn leaf blight: Ht1, Ht2, Ht3, and HtN. These genes may signal proteins that protect the plant from attack by the fungus, but the exact mechanism isn’t known. Resistance breaks down – corn becomes susceptible again – when the fungus evolves to avoid detection by the plant.

 

Continue reading at University of Illinois.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.