Strengthen sorghum against fungus

Feb 29, 2024

Agene recently discovered by a team of U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service and Purdue University scientists could help fortify the defenses of sorghum to anthracnose, a disease of the cereal grain crop that can inflict yield losses of as much as 50 percent.

The discovery, to be reported in an upcoming issue of The Plant Journal, opens the door to breeding disease-resistant sorghum cultivars that are less reliant on fungicides to protect them, reducing grower production costs and safeguarding grain yields and quality, among other benefits.

Sorghum is the fifth-most widely grown cereal grain crop worldwide, providing consumers not only with a source of food containing 12 essential nutrients, but also forage for livestock and material for bio-based energy. However unchecked with fungicides or other measures, anthracnose will attack all parts of a susceptible cultivar, often forming reddish lesions on leaves and the stem as well as causing damage to the plant's panicles and grain heads.

Genetic-based disease resistance is the most effective and sustainable approach to combating anthracnose in sorghum. However how that resistance actually works in the plant is poorly understood, according to Matthew Helm, a research molecular biologist at the USDA Agricultural Research Service's Crop Production and Pest Control Research Unit in West Lafayette, Indiana. That knowledge gap is worrisome because of the genetic variability among different races -- or types -- of the anthracnose fungus and their potential to overcome a cultivar's resistance genes over time. Additionally anthracnose resistance can be temperature-dependent, potentially leaving a sorghum crop vulnerable to infection if temperatures soar greater than a certain threshold.

Helm and a team of Purdue University scientists led by Demeke Mewa have begun to close that gap. They identified a disease-resistance gene that orchestrates a series of defense responses to early infection by the anthracnose fungus, preventing its spread to the rest of the plant and grain heads.

Additionally sorghum plants carrying the resistance gene, known as "ANTHRACNOSE RESISTANCE GENE 2" or ARG2, successfully withstood the fungus even when greenhouse temperatures were increased to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. That temperature stability could be a potential boon for sorghum production regions of the world where growing season temperatures can reach those levels.

The team also determined that ARG2 helps make -- encodes for -- a protein that is concentrated in the plasma membrane of resistant sorghum cells. There, it acts as a kind of intruder alert that's triggered by certain proteins used by the anthracnose fungus to infect the plant.

Click here to see more...
Subscribe to our Newsletters

Trending Video