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$850K NSF Grant Aims at Understanding How Food Plants Fight Destructive Fungi

By Maryland Today Staff

Researchers at the Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology Research (IBBR) and the University of Maryland have received $850,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to advance our understanding of how fungi such as powdery mildew infect plants, including food crops, and how plants fight back.

IBBR Fellow and Professor Shunyuan Xiao of the Department of Plant Sciences and Landscape Architecture is leading the research, which takes on an aspect of the broad problem of fungal pathogens wiping out up to 15% of crops globally each year.

Some fungi and fungus-like organisms called oomycetes grow by absorbing nutrients from a host plant. They penetrate their host using a root-like structure called a haustorium, the structure and function of which is poorly understood.

“The molecular warfare between plant and invader occurs where the invader’s haustorium contacts the plant cell,” Xiao said. “The winner determines resistance or susceptibility to an invading pathogen.”

With support from the NSF, his group plans to identify and study proteins located at the host-pathogen interface (i.e. the battleground) where the haustorium contacts the host plant, using a system consisting of the model plant Arabidopsis and a powdery mildew named Gc-UCSC1.

“New findings from this project may translate to novel strategies to fight against fungal pathogens and reduce crop losses, thereby contributing to sustainable agriculture and global food security,” says IBBR Director Thomas Fuerst.

Initial funding for Xiao’s research was provided through a seed grant from the University of Maryland Strategic Partnership: MPowering the State, a program designed to leverage the strengths and missions of the University of Maryland, College Park and the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

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