SBC Update: Winter 2017-2018

Update from the Co-Director: Global Vision, Global Impacts

Jim Bradeen, SBC Co-Director

E.C. Stakman and Norman Borlaug were scientists with global visions and global impacts. Both men were committed to the idea of finding science-based solutions to plant health and food security challenges. The SBC builds on that vision. The SBC is proud to support CFANS scientists in expanding our global impacts through teaching, research, and extension. Today, SBC supports research projects including the work of Ben Lockhart in Kenya, where he is responding to Maize Lethal Necrosis, a viral disease devastating maize production, threatening food security, and indirectly impacting human health by promoting food rot in storage. The SBC is supporting USDA-ARS Cereal Disease Lab scientists Matthew Rouse, Yue Jin, and Les Szabo in responding to new challenges to wheat health in Ethiopia. And the SBC is supporting research projects in Bangladesh and Indonesia to reduce fungicide use in potato protection. In this issue of our newsletter, we are excited to share updates about some of our projects that solve plant health problems, build research capacity, and provide new opportunities for our students, staff, and faculty to engage in international research.

Stakman-Borlaug Center Receives USDA Funding for Food for Progress Assessment

Stakman-Borlaug Center Food for ProgressThe Stakman-Borlaug Center for Sustainable Plant Health (SBC) has been awarded $721,000 from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service to fund a two-year project to conduct the Food for Progress Post-Project Sustainability Assessment.

The SBC is an interdisciplinary center within CFANS that is committed to creating sustainable research-, outreach-, and education-based solutions to plant health problems that threaten global crop production. The SBC will lead this project while working very closely with its contracted partner - The Improve Group, a woman-owned, full-service evaluation, research, and strategic planning consulting firm based in Saint Paul, Minnesota. The Improve Group is committed to helping local, national, and international organizations make the most of information, navigate complexity, and ensure their investments lead to meaningful, sustained impact.  

Food for Progress, a program within the USDA’s Foreign Agriculture Service, supports developing countries and emerging markets to improve and strengthen their agricultural sectors by improving agricultural productivity and expanding trade of agricultural products. Food For Progress has active projects in 10 countries, and completed projects in many more. This new sustainability assessment will determine if and to what extent Food for Progress development activities and recommended practices have been sustained since the project's end, and what practices growers have or plan to continue with. Information learned during this assessment will help shape future Food for Progress activities.

“This project provides yet another opportunity for CFANS faculty, staff and students to positively influence global agriculture and food security.  Integrating expertise from several different disciplines, our assessment activities can be leveraged to build new international researcher-to-researcher partnerships and provide international experiences for our students.  We are excited too to establish a new public-private partnership with the Improve Group. This new project is a win-win-win for the SBC, CFANS and all of our partners,” says Jim Bradeen, SBC Co Director.  

Numerous CFANS faculty will play a pivotal role in this project, as they have willingly contributed and shared their expertise in various fields related to Food for Progress projects. SBC Collaborative Research Specialist Britta Hansen played a key leadership role in securing this project and will continue to provide project coordination. 

Oat Rust Forum November 2017, Cornell University

By: Britta Hansen, Collaborative Research Specialist

Oat Rust Forum November 2017This year’s ORF meeting kicked off with an introduction from Jim Bradeen and Britta Hansen, followed by updates from the Board of Directors by Tom Rabaey. José Costa (USDA) provided a summary of the previous two days USDA-AAFC oat research and strategy meetings. This year’s ORF meeting was held at Cornell University in order to piggyback onto an existing oat research meeting led jointly by the USDA and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Because of this, many participants were able to attend both meetings. Thanks to Clare Saied and Jean-Luc Jannink at Cornell for helping our University of Minnesota team put together the event logistics, and for their wonderful contributions to the meeting.

We were delighted to have a few guest presentations in attrition to the team updates. Dr. Catherine Howarth, from Aberystwyth University joined us all the way from Wales this year. She gave a wonderful presentation on some of her work developing and evaluating oat varieties with enhanced disease resistance. Robert Park from the University of Sydney in Australia gave us an update on some of the work his lab is doing on cereal rust research.

Each team presented on their work to date, you can find their detailed presentations here. Some highlights include:

  • The Data and Knowledge Management team is working towards developing a genome-sequence-based inventory of selectable markers

  • A total of 124 crown rust samples were collected/contributed to the Cereal Disease Lab 2016 collection with 225 isolates characterized. For 2017, the numbers are 152 collections with 194 isolates characterized to date.

  • The Gene Release and Use Strategy team aims to “develop long term recurrent selection protocol for rust resistance,” with crown rust resistance a major priority.

  • Work from the IPM, Extension, Education and Outreach (IEEO) team is finding that in the presence of OCR (Beresford- SD), fungicide application at flag leaf emergence increased yield and test weight in the susceptible varieties over the untreated check. Plumps and the groats were increased in the susceptible varieties with the fungicide spray after flag leaf emergence. In the absence of OCR, fungicide application does not seem to impact any of the quality characteristics.

Madeleine Smith Oat Rust Forum November 2017

Madeleine Smith, Assistant Professor, Plant Pathology

Madeleine Smith, Assistant Professor at the Northwest Research and Outreach Center, University of Minnesota shares some of her observations here.

"The 2017 ORF at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, was a gem of a conference despite the grey and cold weather that served as the backdrop. The neat thing about this meeting was the diversity of scientific disciplines represented as well as industry partners. This includes, pathologists, agronomists, crop geneticists and small grains breeders who are fully committed to working to improving all aspects of oat production. It also incorporates stakeholders including some of the important milling companies.

For me, as a pathologist relatively new to working with oats, the great advantage of this meeting is being able to not only connect with other pathologists, but also with breeders and agronomists and their experiences as they relate to thinking about disease management as well as being able to talk to millers about assessing the downstream impact of management practices on important milling qualities. The composition and dedication of the group also makes defining future needs and priority research areas much easier.

I was also at this meeting able to make some international connections with researchers working in similar areas. Of course there is also time for a little sightseeing and I was able to take a hike with some colleagues to experience the beauty of the Fingerling Lakes and sample some of the local fare, all in spite of the overcast weather!"

The Oat Rust Initiative Executive Committee was happy to see such broad participation from the oat community and is looking forward to another productive year!

The Oat Rust Initiative brings together researchers and stakeholders to collaborate and solve problems related to oat rust, the goals are to:

    1. Connect researchers and stakeholders
    2. Coordinate community interactions to define and achieve research and extension goals
    3. Advocate for research funding from novel sources, leverage public-private partnerships
    4. Raise awareness of the impacts of oat rust and raise visibility of oat research

Oat Global Seeking Associate Director

We are growing! The SBC is seeking a full-time Associate Director for Oat Global, expanding our efforts into a broader oat research and extension innovation platform with global reach and impact.  Read more >>

Genomic Technologies for Plant Breeding: A collaborative workshop between U.S. and Ethiopia

By: Mohamed Yakub, Outreach and Education Coordinator

Ethiopia TrainingWheat rust, a fungal disease that affects wheat, barley, and other grains, can spread easily across agricultural fields resulting in significant food and economic losses. These losses are severe in developing countries, such as Ethiopia, the largest wheat producing country in sub-saharan Africa. Rather than spraying fungicide, which can have severe environmental impacts, breeding for resistant varieties of crops is one technique to manage rusts. Previous studies have identified various resistant wheat varieties, most of which have different genomic regions conferring resistance. Wheat varieties that have different resistant genomic regions can be used in breeding programs to develop crops that are resistant to rust. However just as plants evolve resistance to rusts, fungi in natural environmental evolve different ways to overcome the resistance and infect plants resulting in a continual arms race between the plants and fungi. Thus, continued research is needed in order to identify resistant varieties of wheat (and other grains) and select those in breeding lines.

Plant Pathology Adjunct Associate Professor Matt Rouse has worked with collaborators in Kulumsa, Ethiopia to setup breeding nurseries for wheat. Recently, the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR) acquired an ABI 3730XL sequencer to support molecular identification and breeding of resistant plant varieties rather than having to send samples to other countries. To support their setup and use of this sequencer, in September 2017 Mohamed Yakub from the Stakman-Borlaug Center for Sustainable Plant Health (SBC) organized a weeklong workshop on molecular biology and genetic sequencing. The goals of this workshop were to engage scientists in using the sequencer to genotype plants, especially focusing on wheat, in order to identify resistant varieties of plants. This workshop, funded by the Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and supported by University of Minnesota, was also setup to strengthen international research relationships.

Alex SuskoThis workshop conducted with Professor Ruth Dill-Macky (UMN Plant Pathology), Researcher Erena Edae (UMN Plant Pathology), Sanger Sequencing Service Manager Patrick Warner (UMN Genomic Center), and Ph.D. student Alex Susko (UMN Agronomy and Plant Genetics) involved 24 participants from at least five research centers across Ethiopia, who all came to the EIAR biotechnology center at Holeta, Ethiopia. Rather than just have a lecture style course, working with researchers at EIAR, this workshop was interactive and worked to engage the diverse audiences. To provide the interactive lab experience, Rouse provided samples of wheat DNA, primers and reagents along with protocols for genotyping. Each of the workshop instructors provided materials that they would use for teaching, created case-studies that would foster discussion, and prepared practice data for analyses. Moreover, to support the learning, some of the material was presented in English as well as Amharic.

Workshop participants ranged from students to junior and senior level scientists. The workshop challenged them in thinking about the role of molecular biology in plant pathology and specifically in developing resistant crop varieties. We encouraged participants to connect ideas they learned at this workshop to their own work, which included wheat,other grains, coffee, teff, and bacteria. In addition to conceptual work, participants setup wheat samples to be sequenced, and had an opportunity to understand the complete process of how to identify genomic regions of interest depending on their research questions. Lastly, we worked on data analyses in R. We were challenged with occasional power outages, and long commutes resulting in less hours of engagement; however, participants all had the opportunity to work on samples for sequencing and participate in discussions with peers on how they would use this technology in their work.

We are looking forward to a follow up workshop in summer 2018 which would entail some sequence work but would focus on data analyses and bioinformatics, and are also working to invite at least two scientists to visit the University of Minnesota. Visiting scientists would learn techniques in labs here, and then would support the teaching of others back in Ethiopia. We envision this experience becoming an annual workshop supporting international research.