Transforming Agriculture, Perennially

Crop Protection Genetics

The Land Institute’s Crop Protection Genetics program uses defense traits and disease resistance genes to protect crops during domestication.

Throughout history, diseases have led to major crop epidemics resulting in food shortage and famine. The Crop Protection Genetic Program partners closely with breeding and ecology programs to reduce disease through genetic improvements and changes to management practices.

Why Crop Protection Genetics?

  • Infections caused by certain fungi, bacteria, and viruses can limit crop yields by reducing nutrient uptake, preventing flowering, or even causing death. Besides lowering yields, some pathogens produce toxins that make the crop unsuitable for consumption. For example, the Fusarium fungus infects wheatgrass (Kernza®) heads and produces compounds toxic to humans and livestock. We utilize genetic diversity within our crops to limit certain pathogen strains from becoming dominant and causing severe damage.
  • We use observation of symptoms, DNA sequences, and enzyme-based approaches to identify pathogens. Pathogens that are specific to our novel crops will require intensive evaluation.
  • In conventional agricultural systems, controlling weeds, pests, and diseases is typically accomplished by using disruptive methods such tillage and chemical control. However, in natural grassland ecosystems, fire and grazing can have many beneficial effects in reducing the size of pathogen populations. We are testing strategies such as burning and timing of biomass harvest in developing a natural systems agriculture.

Angela Brekalo, a resident at The Land Institute, examines silphium plants for rust and leaf blotch. She’s comparing disease resistance of these plants with resistance data of their parents. She’s ranking that degree of resistance by tying one of five colored ribbons to the plants. The analysis work will continue through harvest.

Join us by supporting this work with a donation to The Land Institute!


Project Team

Kathryn Turner
Lead Scientist, Crop Protection Genetics

Yvonne Thompson
Research Associate, Crop Protection Genetics

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