Like the virus that causes COVID-19, pathogens that attack crops change constantly to evade host immunity, or disease resistance in plant parlance.
Like the virus that causes COVID-19, pathogens that attack crops change constantly to evade host immunity, or disease resistance in plant parlance. Sometimes, a single gene makes the difference between a resistant crop and one that’s susceptible. In those cases, the gene typically blocks the pathogen for a while, until the microbe makes a change.
That’s where quantitative disease resistance comes in. Here, multiple genes work together to offer shades of disease resistance in a plant. If the pathogen evolves to overcome one of the genes, there are backups. In other words, resistance remains much more durable.
Tiffany Jamann, assistant professor in the Department of Crop Sciences at the University of Illinois, and her colleagues received $1.5 million from the National Science Foundation to study quantitative disease resistance in corn.
“Plant diseases cause an estimated 13% loss of global crop yields annually, reducing incomes and food quality and safety. Quantitative disease resistance usually works against all variants of pathogens, and thus is an effective disease management tool,” Jamann says. “Our research will identify disease resistance mechanisms for some of the most important diseases of corn, which is both a model species for plant quantitative genetics and the most valuable crop in the U.S.”
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