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Researcher looks for answers about unique disease-resistant gene
Date:9/14/2009

Virginia Tech faculty member Bingyu Zhao is investigating a disease-resistant gene in corn that prevents bacteria from invading distantly related plant species.

Zhao, assistant professor of horticulture in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (www.cals.vt.edu/), hopes to discover why Rxo1 violates a rule in modern plant pathology and show plant breeders how to transfer disease-resistant genes from model plant species into economically important crops. He has received a $1 million, five-year Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award, which is the National Science Foundation's most prestigious award for creative junior faculty considered to be future leaders in their academic fields.

"All plants have disease problems. Each year, we lose more than 20 percent of all crops to plant diseases worldwide," Zhao said. "To save the food supply, we must either increase yields or improve plant disease resistance."

Traditional plant breeding involves identifying members of a species with desirable traits such as a natural resistance to a disease and propagating those traits in successive generations. Plant molecular biologists can also use genetic engineering to transfer a disease-resistant gene found in one species, such as corn, into a closely related species, such as rice. Because corn and rice belong to the same taxonomic family, their genes function in similar ways.

"However, it is known in the field of molecular plant pathology that a disease-resistant gene would not be functional when it was transferred into a plant species that belongs to a different plant taxonomic family," explained Zhao, who calls this principle "restricted taxonomic functionality." "For example, a gene in pepper would not be functional in rice because they belong to the Solanaceae and Poaceae families, respectively."

Surprisingly, Rxo1, a disease-resistant gene originally cloned from corn, doe
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Contact: Michael Sutphin
msutphin@vt.edu
540-231-6975
Virginia Tech
Source:Eurekalert  

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