Archive for the ‘Fungi’ Category


Released: 16-Dec-2014 11:00 AM EST
Source Newsroom: Institute of Food Technologists (IFT)


Newswise — CHICAGO –Argentina is the second highest corn producing country in the world. But because of the slow drying process in corn kernels and wet weather conditions in Argentina, corn grown there can easily become infected with fungi. A new study in the Journal of Food Science published by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) found that the essential oils from oregano can have an antifungal effect on corn.
Generally, fungicide is controlled with the use of synthetic chemicals. However, it may require greater synthetic chemical usage as resistant strains of pathogens increase. Essential oils are an alternative strategy to controlling the growth of fungus without a negative impact. Since only small amounts of oils are needed, they have a low toxicity to animals and they do not remain in water or soil for a long time (Isman, 2000).
Oregano proved to be the best antifungal agent because of the presence of thymol, but oils of peppermints and suico grown in Argentina may also be used as a natural alternative to control the presence of postharvest fungi in corn.

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Kansas State University
Released: 13-Nov-2014 10:00 AM EST
Source Newsroom: Kansas State University

Newswise — MANHATTAN, Kansas — Several states, including Kansas, are trying to protect their borders from a little beetle that could cost the black walnut industry millions of dollars. Kansas Forest Service specialists at Kansas State University say you could be spreading the disease without knowing it.
Thousand cankers disease has been confirmed in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Vermont, Nevada, California, Idaho, Washington, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia. Several quarantines have been established in an attempt to prevent the disease from spreading. States in quarantine include Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Missouri, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Wyoming and Montana.
“It’s an interesting disease that requires two parts,” said Ryan Armbrust, a forest health specialist with the Kansas Forest Service. “There’s a small walnut twig beetle that will feed on the twigs of black walnut trees. In doing this, it will spread a fungus that causes cankers and causes the tree’s vascular system to clog up and die.”
The beetle is tiny —about the size of the letter “i” in the word Liberty on a dime. The flight season for the beetle is typically in the warmer months, but it can survive in the tree throughout the year. Since there are currently no viable treatment options, Armbrust says the best defense is to avoid moving black walnut tree firewood or lumber out of an area, especially if it still contains the bark.
“While it may seem safer to move black walnut material in the wintertime, when the beetle isn’t flying around, that beetle could still be contained within that bark. When it warms up in the spring, it could come out,” Armbrust said. “There really is no safe time of year to move black walnut lumber, especially from an area that has been infested.”
Kansas is home to about 25 million black walnut trees, which are an important part of the economy. The Kansas Forest Service estimates the state would lose at least $160 million in revenue from the lumber and nut production if these trees were destroyed by thousand cankers disease.


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Blight-Resistant American Chestnut Trees Take Root at SUNY-ESF
Powered by one gene from wheat, trees withstand attack by invasive fungus

Released: 4-Nov-2014 7:00 AM EST
Embargo expired: 6-Nov-2014 8:00 AM EST
Source Newsroom: SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry


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Dr. Charles Maynard, left, and Dr. William Powell of the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in a plot with young chestnut trees

Newswise — SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Scientists at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) are growing the first American chestnut trees that can withstand the blight that virtually eliminated the once-dominant tree from the eastern United States.
Members of the ESF research team recently published three peer-reviewed papers that, along with continuing research, support their conviction that their biotechnology work with a gene originating in wheat makes the American chestnut tree at least as blight resistant as the Chinese chestnut tree that can co-exist with blight with minimal ill effects.
“Our goal was to develop an American chestnut tree that has blight resistance equal to that of a Chinese chestnut and we are there. We’ve done it,” said Dr. William Powell, an ESF professor who leads the research project along with Dr. Chuck Maynard. “The leaf assays show it, the small-stem assays show it,” Powell said, referring to the analytical processes the researchers go through to determine the level of blight resistance. “These American chestnut trees are blight resistant.”
“It is tremendously satisfying to reach this level of success. We have a lot of people to thank for this. It’s been a long haul but we are happy with where we are,” Maynard said. A significant milestone in the process, he said, was reached when the transgenic trees, inoculated with the blight during testing, remained essentially as healthy as control trees that had been inoculated with only water.
The tree was once prominent enough to have earned a place in American culture, with chestnuts roasting over open fires in the winter, and Chestnut Streets running through towns across the country. The wood of American chestnuts is rot-resistant, making it suitable for construction purposes, and its abundant nuts were once a dietary staple for wildlife.
The next step in its return is for the researchers to select one of the 14 lines of transgenic trees with blight resistance and submit a detailed application to the federal agencies that will conduct a rigorous review process. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency, and Food and Drug Administration must approve the trees before they are available to the public for planting. If all goes well, the process could take around five years.
This is the first time the approval process will be used for a tree that is ultimately destined to be planted in the wild. The process has been applied to many crops, orchard and plantation trees, but not to species that are native to U.S. forests.
In the meantime, Powell, a molecular plant biologist, and Maynard, a tree improvement specialist, will produce as many trees as possible, perhaps 10,000, so they are ready for planting if and when the approval process is complete. The ESF College Foundation, Inc., which supports the college’s educational mission, continues fundraising efforts to support the work.
“The team has accomplished a major goal, the generation of a blight-resistant American chestnut tree,” said Dr. Timothy Tschaplinski, a scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory who does chemical analysis for the research team to determine if the tissue of transgenic trees differs from that of wild-type trees. “The results of the metabolite analyses indicate that the nuts produced from transgenic plants aren’t appreciably different from those produced by wild-type plants and should be safe for consumption. The sum total of these efforts is a major step forward for the goal of restoration of American chestnut to the North American landscape.”
Continuing research by ESF and collaborators from other institutions indicates that the transgenic trees do not affect the composition of leaf litter, the feeding habits of insects or the growth of ecologically important fungi.
“We’re doing all these tests to be sure there are no ill effects because we are the first to develop a transgenic tree for an environmental restoration program,” Powell said.
Powell said the fact that the gene used to enhance blight resistance is obtained from wheat should allay concerns about the genetic engineering that went into producing the new lines of trees. “We eat it all the time,” he said. “If you had a bagel for breakfast, you ate it today. And this gene is gluten-free.”
He said that in trees produced in the laboratory, only two genes — the wheat gene and a common selectable marker gene — did not originally occur in the American chestnut (which has about 40,000 genes). A selectable marker gene is one introduced to an organism to help researchers be sure the resistance-enhancing gene is present.
Many hybrid chestnuts made by crossing different chestnut species, such as the “Dunstan” chestnut and others commonly on the market today, mix tens of thousands of genes. Even backcross breeding results in trees that have approximately one-sixteenth Chinese genes, or some 2,500 genes introduced by humans. “Our transgenic American chestnuts are much, much closer to the original trees that were in our forests, and we got there by adding only a couple genes,” Powell said.
The most recent study, published this week in the journal “Plant Science,” shows that when American chestnuts acquire blight resistance in the laboratory, they pass it on to the next generation, so trees planted in the wild would have blight-resistant offspring. The two previous publications show that the level of blight resistance in an individual tree is linked to the presence of the resistance gene from wheat and that laboratory tests performed on leaves predict the level of blight resistance that is seen in field tests.
Powell and Maynard said the process shows the value of biotechnology in dealing with invasive species, such as the pathogenic fungus that arrived in New York City more than 100 years ago and virtually wiped out what was once the most abundant forest tree in the eastern United States.
“It’s possible to enhance disease resistance in plants with genetic engineering. This is a powerful tool that can be added to all the other tools available to improve forest health. This technique can be used for many species of trees that are threatened by disease. It goes beyond the American chestnut,” Powell said.
Initiating the approval process marks the latest step in a process that began about 25 years ago with the two professors’ partnership.
Powell and his team were responsible for finding and testing genes that would protect the tree. His background research on the blight fungus led the way to the successful use of a wheat oxalate oxidase gene. This gene doesn’t hurt the fungus, but instead detoxifies the acid used by the fungus to attack the tree, essentially changing the fungus from a pathogen to a saprophyte that lives on the bark of the tree without causing significant harm.
Meanwhile, Maynard and his team were developing a process to insert genes into embryo tissue of American chestnut and regenerate them into whole plants. Maynard estimated that in the first five years alone, they extracted at least 10,000 embryos from nuts. The majority of these embryos died or just grew callus, but a handful survived for the next steps of the research process. Since 2006, about 2,000 transgenic American chestnut trees have been planted in field trials.

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Washington State University News
September 15, 2014
By Eric Sorensen, WSU science writer
PULLMAN, Wash. – Washington State University researchers have found “the most famous wheat gene,” a reproductive traffic cop of sorts that can be used to transfer valuable genes from other plants to wheat.
The discovery clears the way for breeders to develop wheat varieties with the disease- and pest-resistance traits of other grasses, using a legion of genetic tools that can reduce crop losses and pesticide use while foregoing the cost, regulatory hurdles and controversy of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.
“The real exciting part of this gene is that it has tremendous potential for application,” said Kulvinder Gill, a WSU professor, who reports his findings in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
For some 35 million years, the wild ancestors of wheat routinely traded genes as they accidentally cross-bred with each other. But with the rise of agriculture and cultivated wheat 10,000 years ago, the plant’s genetic structure changed. Instead of being diploid, with two sets of chromosomes like humans and most other living things, it became polyploid, with, in the case of bread wheat, seven sets of six related chromosomes.
Starting in 1958, just five years after the discovery of DNA’s double-helix structure, researchers suspected that a specific gene controls the orderly pairing of wheat chromosomes during reproduction.
“If this gene was not present, there would be chaos in the nucleus,” said Gill. “Six chromosomes would pair with each other and sometimes five chromosomes would go to one cell and one to the other, resulting in a sterile plant. Because of this gene, wheat can be fertile. Without this gene, it would be more like sugar cane, where it is a mess in the nucleus and it can only be vegetatively propagated.”
But the gene also prevents wheat from breeding with related ancestors that can contain a vast array of traits preferred by growers.
“This gene would not allow rye chromosomes to pair with wheat,” said Gill. “We cannot get a single gene transfer into wheat as long as this gene is present.”
Interest in the gene, called Ph1, has spawned scores of research papers, making it what Gill called, “the most famous wheat gene.”
In 2006, British researchers writing in the journal Nature said they identified the gene.
“In this paper,” said Gill, “we show that their gene is not the Ph1.”
Knowing their findings would be controversial, Gill and his colleagues spent a year repeating the experiments that led to their conclusion. They are now moving on.
“Now that we have the gene, we can actually use that gene sequence to temporarily silence the gene and make rye and other chromosomes pair with wheat and transfer genes by a natural method into wheat without calling it GMO,” Gill said.
Their first effort involves transferring a gene from jointed goatgrass, a wild relative of wheat, to confer resistance to stripe rust. The fungus is considered the world’s most economically damaging wheat pathogen, costing U.S. farmers alone some $500 million in lost productivity in 2012.
While facilitated by technology, the actual exchange of genetic material is similar to what has long taken place in nature, only faster. Incorporating the gene transfer into the overall breeding process, researchers can develop a new variety in five years, said Gill.
“If we let wheat evolve for another few millions years in the wild, maybe it will develop enough variation, but we don’t have that kind of time,” said Gill. “We need to solve this problem today.”
Funding for the research came from WSU’s Vogel Endowment Fund. Other researchers were Ramanjot Bhullar, a WSU doctoral student and the paper’s lead author; Ragupathi Nagarajan, a WSU doctoral student; Harvinder Bennypaul of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency; Gaganpreet K. Sidhu, a WSU master’s graduate now at Columbia University; WSU doctoral student Gaganjot Sidhu; WSU assistant research professor Sachin Rustgi; and R.A. Nilan Distinguished Professor Diter von Wettstein.

Kulvinder Gill, WSU professor, ksgill@wsu.edu, 509-335-4666


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At a Virginia Tech-led conference in Nepal, agriculture experts learn that employing Trichoderma can save millions of people from disease, save billions of dollars in crop loss, and safeguard the environment by reducing toxic pesticide use.

See video at:


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The Economist
Jul 26th 2014 | CHINCHINÁ | From the print edition

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How Colombia fought the fungus

WHEN Jesús María Aguirre saw his coffee bushes wither away, he knew that he had lost the sole source of income for his family. “We would go to collect coffee and would come back with our baskets nearly empty,” says the Colombian grower, recalling the pernicious effects of the “coffee rust” fungus, or roya.

The fungus stunts the growth of the fruit of arabica coffee plants. It infected about 40% of Colombia’s crop between 2008 and 2012. Production plunged from a high of 12.6m 60kg bags a year in 2007 to just 7.7m bags in 2012. As supply from Colombia shrank, international buyers turned to growers elsewhere.

What Mr Aguirre went through then is now the lot of farmers throughout Central America, the Dominican Republic, southern Mexico and Jamaica. Production there fell by 30% between 2011 and 2013 because of roya, reckons the International Coffee Organisation. USAID thinks it has caused $1 billion of economic damage in Latin America since 2012. This time Colombians are the ones taking advantage.

On his farm on the slopes of the country’s central mountain range, Mr Aguirre today presides over 1.5 hectares (4 acres) of healthy bushes plump with red berries. For yields to recover, he had to yank up fungus-prone bushes and plant a new variety that promised to fight off the blight. He was one of thousands of farmers who joined in a countrywide scheme run by the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation, which represents more than 500,000 independent growers. By June 2014 more than 3 billion bushes had been replanted.

Three-quarters of them were replaced with a roya-resistant variety known as Castillo, which had been developed in the labs of Cenicafé, the coffee federation’s research arm, after 13 years of selective breeding. Lindsey Bolger, head coffee buyer for Keurig Green Mountain, a roaster in the United States, said the industry was “on pins and needles” about whether the Castillo would work. It has. Colombia produced 11.5m bags in the 12 months to June 2014, up by 31% on the previous 12-month period, according to the coffee federation. Buyers are coming back.

Fernando Gast, Cenicafé’s director, says seeds of the Castillo coffee plants have been sent to Mexico, El Salvador and Costa Rica for evaluation. But he warns that Colombia’s success story is not directly transferable to Central America. The Castillo variety was created for Colombia’s needs and may not adapt to Central America’s soil and climate, he says.

Cenicafé’s 89 researchers cannot rest easy, either. They are working on a project to map the coffee genome. That should help them develop new varieties that will not only resist roya, which is continuously evolving, but will also be less susceptible to erratic weather. The search for a stronger brew is never over.

From the print edition: The Americas

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Environmental News Network



July 30, 2013 06:05 AM

As if there were a need for even more evidence that global warming is a real, verifiable and evidenced threat, new research is showing Central and South American coffee production is drastically dropping because of higher global temperatures.
Add extreme rainfall totals to the mix and the result is rampant insects and damaged plants. If economics won’t convince people the earth is warming, perhaps interrupting their coffee supply will.

A traditionally reliable and adequate income, coffee farming is becoming a more challenging option. Where entire communities once depended on coffee to perpetuate their economies, farming families need to find alternative sources of income.
Last year, production dropped 70%. A fungus called Coffee Rust is killing of coffee plants quickly where lower temperatures once prevented the spread of the fungus. If ever there was a clear connection between global warming and the declining of production and community stability.
Beans from the area that is seeing the most dramatic trouble produce 16% of Columbian coffee, and command high prices in specialty coffees. Don’t think that insulates you generic brand coffee drinkers. The entire supply chain is cross-pollinated (no pun intended) and will result in higher prices across the spectrum of quality.
Article continues: http://globalwarmingisreal.com/2011/04/05/coffee-production-and-climate-change/

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