ISU Researchers Get $2 million Grant to Study Plant Disease Defenses

August 31st, 2005

Researchers at Iowa State University have been awarded a $2 million grant by the National Science Foundation to study disease defenses in agricultural crops.

"Plant diseases are among the greatest deterrents to crop production worldwide," said Roger Wise, U.S. Department of Agriculture collaborating professor in the plant pathology department and principal investigator on the four-year project. "Major efforts have been devoted to understanding the mechanisms of genetic resistance and incorporating them into breeding programs to offset yield loss caused by pathogens."

Wise and others involved with the project will use genomics tools and resources related to barley, rice and the model plant, Arabidopsis thaliana, to perform comparative analysis of disease defense pathways important to agriculture. Arabidopsis is the first plant genome to be completely sequenced and offers important advantages for basic research in genetics, plant development, plant pathology and molecular biology.

The project got underway this summer. In the first two years, the team will take advantage of the public Barley1 GeneChip, a technology platform that makes it possible to investigate 22,000 cereal genes in a single experiment. This will help the researchers identify significant new genes that play a role in disease resistance.

The next step will be to test these new genes to see if, in fact, they can contribute to overall disease resistance. Results will be added to public databases so other researchers can build on what is learned in the effort at Iowa State University.

Others on the project include Steve Whitham, assistant professor of plant pathology; Julie Dickerson, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering; Daniel Nettleton, associate professor of statistics; and an international collaborator, Patrick Schweizer, Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research, in Gatersleben, Germany.

Five doctoral students, three undergraduates and one postdoctoral research associate will be funded by the grant. In addition, two high school biology teachers will intern each summer.

"Our multi-disciplinary team will provide advanced training opportunities that integrate genomics, plant-pathogen interactions, statistics and bioinformatics," said Wise. "So this project is not only gathering important new information on disease defenses for agricultural crops, it also is developing a new generation of agricultural scientists."


Roger Wise, Plant Pathology, (515) 294-9756,
Susan Thompson, Communications Service, (515) 294-0705,