Rust Gets The ‘Silencing’ Treatment

According to an Agricultural Research Service (ARS) report, scientists plan to deploy a gene-silencing technique in the war against Asian soybean rust.

In an article by ARS’ Jan Suszkiw, she outlines the efforts by the agency to fight the soybean rust fungus, Phakopsora pachyrhizi.

Molecular biologist Kerry Pedley, at the ARS Foreign Disease-Weed Science Research Unit at Fort Detrick, MD, will use gene silencing to discover plant genes that play a role in orchestrating defense responses to P. pachyrhizi in resistant soybeans. The fungus causes substantial losses to soybeans worldwide, and its September 2004 detection in the continental United States has accelerated efforts to protect the $18 billion U.S. soybean crop.

Gene silencing allows scientists to identify a gene’s function by disabling that gene in plants or other organisms, challenging the organism in some way—such as with exposure to a pathogen — and observing the consequences that result from that gene having been "missing in action." In Pedley’s studies, the gene-silenced plants will be inoculated with spores of P. pachyrhizi, and monitored for a breakdown in resistance.

Pedley’s research plan was the top-ranked in a total of 450 proposals recently submitted to the ARS Postdoctoral Research Associate Program. The ultimate goal of Pedley’s research is to streamline the development of new soybean cultivars that can withstand P. pachyrhizi, which causes a foliar disease that severely weakens the plant and diminishes its seed yields and quality. Pedley is collaborating with Iowa State University scientists, and this award will expand upon those efforts.

ARS is a scientific research agency of USDA.

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