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Stopping plants from getting sick

onstad discovered was the method that these fungi use to invade plants and shut down seed production, replacing it with their own spores and causing the black masses of spores on wheat crops ?as he saw when he was a child. The fungi also sense lipids and phosphorous in the plant, meaning the right kind of fungicide might be developed to target that ability and block infection.

"These pathogens provide us with the best of both worlds in terms of research ?we can study them in the field, but we can also bring them to the laboratory and isolate the genes that allow them to infect the plant," says Kronstad. "In fact, genomics and computers have made this a lot easier during the last five to 10 years. Before it would take a graduate student all of his or her research time to sequence and characterize one gene. Now that we have sequenced the genome of a smut fungus, I can look through thousands of genes on my desktop computer."

Kronstad is now using his NSERC-funded research as a foundation to fight an outbreak of the yeast fungus Cryptococcus on Vancouver Island, applying his research on plants to help investigate how this yeast causes pneumonia, meningitis and other illnesses in humans and animals. Still, he says he expects to be kept busy studying fungi for a long time ?keeping the sooty black smut and the smell of rotting fish from Canada's wheat fields.


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Source:Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council


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