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Stopping plants from getting sick

Fungi-infected plants often cause dramatic symptoms such as the formation of colourful masses of fungal spores instead of seeds. Some fungi can even make infected plants smell like rotting fish. In general, these infections cause major headaches for farmers who are counting on their crops, such as wheat and barley, to survive through the growing season.

Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) grantee James Kronstad has spent almost his entire life looking for the "Achilles' heel" of these infections and to develop fungicides to stop fungi in their tracks. He spent his childhood on Oregon wheat farms and witnessed first-hand the damage that fungi can do to crops. He then went to university to learn the tools for dealing with fungal infections of both plants and animals.

Thirty years later, after a lifetime of work in both farmer's fields and the scientific field of fungal biology, Kronstad is being honoured for his work by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). He will be inducted as an AAAS Fellow during the association's annual conference that is being held in San Francisco from February 15 to 19.

"This is a great honour, but it's also a reflection of the hard work my trainees and students and post-docs put in as they worked with me during their careers," says Kronstad, a biologist at the University of British Columbia. "There are about 40 other people who I wish could share this fellowship with me."

Kronstad's NSERC-funded research focuses on the smut fungi, a group of pathogens with an unusual name that comes from the sooty black masses of spores that they form on infected plants. The smut fungi represent particularly useful models to study how pathogens infect crop plants. These fungi depend on the infection of a plant to complete part of their life cycle. But once that part of their life is over, they can be removed from the plant to be studied in the laboratory.

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Source:Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council


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