Zhao hopes to figure out what allows Rxo1 to recognize AvrRxo1 and trigger disease resistance in both corn and tobacco, a phenomenon he calls "broad taxonomic functionality." Zhao and his group are employing plant molecular biology, cell biology, and biochemistry tools to characterize the molecular interaction between Rxo1 and AvrRxo1 proteins.
"I also want to know why certain disease-resistant genes, like Rxo1, can be transferred between different plant taxonomic families while others cannot," said Zhao, who speculates that other disease-resistant genes with similar properties exist in nature but have not yet been found. "If you can understand how to break the rule, you can transfer a disease gene from one plant species to any other plant species. This will offer plant breeders with almost unlimited resources for breeding disease-free cultivars."
If successful, Zhao would revolutionize attempts to control plant disease for economically important crops, including biofuel feedstocks like switchgrass. Rxo1 prevents bacterial pathogens from invading plant cells, providing resistance to various crop diseases such as rice bacterial leaf streak, sorghum leaf streak, tomato bacterial leaf spot, and watermelon fruit blotch.
The grant also provides training for undergraduate and graduate students and supports workshops at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (www.ialr.org/) in Danville, Va., to attract minority high school students to a career in modern plant biology.
|Contact: Michael Sutphin|