Traditional thought holds that a disease-causing organism has to penetrate a plant to initiate resistance. Now, two Washington State University scientists have established that a barley plant recognizes an invader and begins to marshal its defenses within five minutes of an attack. The discovery, along with the scientists’ successful cloning of barley’s disease-fighting gene and the pathogen’s signaling gene, could help to revolutionize the battle against cereal crop enemies such as stem rust. Unless carefully controlled, stem rust has the potential to destroy a grower’s entire crop.
Historically, stem rust has caused the loss of millions of bushels of grain and millions of dollars. Meanwhile, new threats are on the horizon. For example, Ug99 is an evolving wheat pathogen that poses a dangerous threat to global food security, especially in developing countries.
“Now that we understand how the plant pathogen interaction mechanism works, we hope we can manipulate it to build resistance in plants,” said Andy Kleinhofs, professor of molecular genetics in WSU’s Department of Crop and Soil Sciences. With further research, he added, that understanding could lead to new, more effective ways to battle crop diseases such as stem rust and Ug99.
“It will take time for research on Ug99 to see if the mechanism works the same as in this case,” Kleinhofs said. “If it is the same, we could use the technology to defeat Ug99.”
Kleinhofs and Assistant Research Professor Jayaveeramuthu Nirmala focused their research on understanding Rpg1, a gene that provides barley with resistance to the pathogen that causes stem rust. Rpg1 is unique in that it has provided durable resistance in barley over the past 60 years, Kleinhofs said. His laboratory team previously successfully cloned that resistance gene, which when combined with the recently discovered genes that activate it, delivers a one-two punch against stem rust.
It was while monitoring the activity of those combined genes that Kleinhofs and Nirmala observed and documented communication between the barley plants and stem rust spores. In the process, the researchers identified the proteins recognized by the Rpg1 resistance gene and saw the series of signals that tell the plant to protect itself. “It is clear that the plant recognizes the pathogen within five minutes of the spore touching the leaf,” said Camille Steber, a research geneticist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service at WSU.
The plant’s initial reaction to attack is invisible to the human eye, Nirmala said, but she succeeded in monitoring subtle changes in plant chemistry that demonstrated the plant not only recognized it was under attack but was starting to muster its resistance. Visible signs of the stem rust spore’s impact come within an hour, when pad-like lesions connecting the spore to the leaf cell begin to appear.
A reviewer of Kleinhofs’ and Nirmala’s recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences said the discovery “will probably open a whole new avenue of research of plant-pathogen interactions.” Steber said the discovery is a game-changer for plant scientists. “This is the first example where the lock-and-key of cereal-pathogen response is clearly understood,” she said.
Kleinhofs called his and Nirmala’s understanding of the signaling that was going on between plant and pathogen “one of those ‘Eureka!’ moments. There is still a lot to be learned,” he added. “As with any new discovery, more questions arise than have actually been answered, but it is a good start.”
For more information on research in the WSU Dept. of Crop and Soil Sciences, please visit http://css.wsu.edu/.
Mapping the Future of Raspberries
It takes a long time–14 years on average–to develop a new cultivar of red raspberry using traditional methods and, even then, breeders can’t always accomplish what growers and consumers want. Understanding consumer and grower needs and refining breeding processes to develop cultivars that meet those needs is the focus of a new nationwide grant being led by Washington State University.
Scientists at WSU Puyallup and the Pullman campus have received a $50,000 planning grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Specialty Crops Research Initiative to lead a team of researchers throughout the United States and Canada in gathering grower input. They’ll ask what the next cultivars of red raspberry should look like in terms of yields, fruit size, firmness, disease susceptibility and machine harvestability, among other things, and what they should taste like. The information they gather will set the stage for a much larger grant to actually bring the latest genomics and genetics research to bear on developing those cultivars.
“Taking the time to listen to consumer and grower needs and map out a plan absolutely will help speed up raspberry breeding,” said researcher Patrick Moore, a scientist stationed at WSU Puyallup, “but perhaps more importantly, we’ll be more likely to come up with the things we really need and want out of future cultivars. We’ll have a better product.”
Moore, along with Associate Professor and Sensory Scientist Carolyn Ross and Extension Specialist Catherine Daniels, will work with counterparts at Salve Regina University, University of Illinois, Brigham Young University, North Carolina State University, Cornell, USDA’s Agricultural Research Service and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to systematically seek and analyze input from red raspberry growers, processors and consumers. The first of those listening sessions/workshops will be held in Ohio in January.
One aspect of the sessions will be discussion of some of the costliest pests of red raspberries, such as root rot, raspberry bushy dwarf virus and nematodes. “All of these diseases are tailor-made to be addressed by the latest molecular techniques in use,” Moore said.
He noted that the team will work closely with currently funded efforts, such as USDA’s RosBREED project. RosBREED, a nationwide project that includes other WSU scientists, is focusing on marker-assisted breeding in rosaceaous crops such as apples, peaches, cherries and strawberries. Red raspberries, a part of the Rosaceae family, were not included in the RosBREED grant. “We will be working to develop similar techniques to RosBREED’s only tailored for red raspberries,” he said. “We want to complement their work and coordinate whenever possible.”
New System Offers Promise of Improved Orchard Efficiency
While widely considered the world’s best, most consistently excellent source of apples, the Washington tree fruit industry now faces serious competition from growers in South America, China, and Europe. That’s why scientists at WSU have joined forces with researchers in New York and Michigan to develop an innovative system for the delivery of pesticides, fertilizers and other inputs vital to an orchard’s health.
Currently, to protect an orchard from a pest outbreak, a worker must drive a tractor hauling a sprayer up and down the rows of trees. As Jay Brunner, an entomologist and the director of WSU’s Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee, pointed out, there are several inefficiencies in this scenario. The worst is that the orchard manager simply may not have enough equipment to cover a large orchard in a timely manner.
Enter the solid-set canopy delivery system. Like an orchard cooling system that sprays water over the entire roof of the orchard, the canopy delivery system would be built into the fixed (“solid-set”) trellis system in order to simultaneously deliver inputs orchard-wide.
“This system would remove tractor operators from close proximity with pesticides, so there would be even further reduction of health risks than there already is with our modern, soft pest control chemicals,” said Brunner, who is leading WSU’s efforts on the project. “We may also be able to get better efficacy from existing pest control materials by reducing chemical drift and application rates.” Improving efficacy and reducing pesticide application rates means lower costs for growers–and improved environmental safety for orchard workers as well as consumers.
Brunner said the solid-set canopy delivery project was based on a small-scale proof-of-concept demonstration done by ag engineers at Cornell University in New York and Michigan State University. Scientists from all three institutions are being funded by a two-year grant from USDA.
“We’re taking a three-pronged approach,” Brunner said. “There are engineering problems to work out, such as optimizing the design of emitters. We are collaborating with Qin Zhang and his team at the Center for Precision and Automated Agricultural Systems at WSU’s Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Prosser.”
The emitters will need to blow spray up into tree foliage rather than onto the ground, and also be tested for drift. “We’ll add a dye to the spray,” Brunner said,” which will allow us to detect movement of spray off site. The dye will also enable us to quantify coverage within the orchard.” Zhang and his team have already developed sophisticated computer modeling techniques that will enable them to perform preliminary testing of proposed emitter designs in virtual orchards, thus cutting down costs and speeding up development time.
Another aspect of the project is economic. “Unless we can develop a system that beats the cost of the way things are done now, no one will adopt the technology,” Brunner said. He is hopeful that the new delivery method will be a winner. “Work in Michigan test plots indicates that large blocks could be treated in just a few minutes,” he said. The ability to treat 20 acres in minutes rather than hours would be a quantum leap in efficiency over tractor-delivered spraying.
The system should be able to do much more than deliver pest control chemicals, Brunner said. “We’re going to be looking at horticultural practices with our colleague Matt Whitting at WSU’s research center in Prosser,” he said. Blossom and fruit thinners, used to maintain optimal fruit size and quality, could also be delivered throughout large orchards using this system, as could sunburn protection and tree nutrients, adding further economic incentive for growers to adopt the system.
“We’re in the planning stages right now, with work beginning later this month,” Brunner said. “We are talking to industry professionals to see what they would want from this system, as well as to understand what they consider the barriers to adoption. And we’re talking with irrigation companies to get help with developing infrastructure and designing new emitters. Next spring, we’ll be installing what we’ve developed over the previous fall and winter in test plots here in Wenatchee as well as in Prosser, and possibly in commercial orchards.”
CAHNRS is more than agriculture. With 24 majors, 19 minors, and 27 graduate level programs, we are one of the largest, most diverse colleges at WSU. CAHNRS Cougs are making a difference in the wellbeing of individuals, families, and communities, improving ecological and economic systems, and advancing agricultural sciences.
Rotating cover crops in tulip fields shows promise for fighting disease in the economically important flower bulb, according to early research findings at the Washington State University research center in Mount Vernon.
You generally don’t find livestock among the hills in the Palouse region of eastern Washington where grain is grown. But wheat farmers Eric and Sheryl Zakarison are changing that – and making a profit.
Washington State University students and faculty dominated awards for research poster sessions and scholarships during the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers 2015 annual meeting Feb. 10-13. WSU faculty and students won all nine poster awards in the professional, graduate and undergraduate categories. Six WSU students won scholarships totaling $14,000 from the Washington Wine Industry Foundation.
The watermelon crop has declined dramatically in Washington because of disease. But Washington State University researchers are developing a solution that involves grafting watermelon plants onto squash and other vine plant rootstocks. “We’ve lost about ...
The Rock Doc is a nationally syndicated newspaper column written by Dr. Kirsten Peters, covering many scientific and research related topics in a upbeat and entertaining fashion. Dr. Peter’s humor and anecdotes help to bring these stories to a public audience by showing how they affect everyday life. The most recent articles are linked below.
Students have a variety of options to pursue masters and doctoral degrees. Many of these have very specific background requirements, so we suggest exploring the individual programs for academic guidelines.
Being a CAHNRS Coug is about having a life-changing experience and having fun along the way. With an endless array of subjects to study, students can explore a variety of topics until they focus on that area that truly excites them. We include ample opportunities to learn outside the classroom, because we not only believe it’s a better way to learn, it makes for a more meaningful and enjoyable college experience.
The Center for Transformational Learning and Leadership makes it possible for students to secure that job-landing internship, experience another culture in the southern hemisphere, unlock their leadership potential through seminars and workshops, and find a mentor to coach them through their academic experience.
CAHNRS knows how to throw a party, and there is not greater time to celebrate than when our students return to campus. Free food (including Ferdinand’s Ice Cream), swag from each of our student clubs, activities, and a drawing for $1,000 scholarships—its all part of our annual Fall Festival. And we just don’t limit the event to our CAHNRS majors, we welcome everyone across campus to learn more about what our college offers.
CAHNRS Office of Research
Agricultural Research Center
The goal of the Washington State University CAHNRS Office of Research is to promote research beneficial to the citizens of Washington. The Office of Research recognizes its unique land-grant research mission to the people of Washington and their increasing global connections. The CAHNRS Office of Research provides leadership in discovering and applying knowledge through high-quality research that contributes to a safe and abundant food, fiber, and energy supply while enhancing the sustainability of agricultural and natural resource systems.
Pullman, Wash. – You generally don’t find livestock among the hills of the Palouse region of eastern Washington where grain is grown. But wheat farmers Eric and Sheryl Zakarison are changing that – and making a profit.
On 100 of their 1,300 family owned acres, they are experimenting with a rather unconventional scheme for the region – growing wheat, peas, perennial grasses like alfalfa and sheep in a tightly integrated system. MORE
The watermelon crop has declined dramatically in Washington because of disease. But Washington State University researchers are developing a solution that involves grafting watermelon plants onto squash and other vine plant rootstocks.
“We’ve lost about a third of our state’s watermelon production over the last 10 years because of Verticillium wilt,” said Carol Miles, a professor of vegetable horticulture at the WSU Northwestern Washington Research and Extension Center in Mount Vernon. “Growers have switched to other crops that are less susceptible.” MORE
Gender and personality matter in how people cope with physical and mental illness, according to a paper by a Washington State University scientist and colleagues at the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce.
Men are less affected by a single-symptom illness than women, but are more affected when more than one symptom is present. The number of symptoms doesn’t change how women are affected, according to Robert Rosenman, WSU professor in the Department of Economic Sciences. MORE
PULLMAN, Wash. – Researchers know that adding natural buffers to the farm landscape can stop soil from vanishing. Now a scientist at Washington State University has found that more buffers are better, both for pleasing the eye and slowing erosion.
Linda Klein, a recent doctoral graduate in WSU’s School of the Environment, worked with six other researchers at the university, plus one at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Moscow (Idaho) Forestry Sciences Laboratory, to explore the role that buffers – strips or clumps of shrubs, trees and natural vegetation – play in the landscape and in people’s visual preferences.
Klein surveyed Whitman County residents to see if conservation features made for more scenic fields and valleys. She found that Palouse residents prefer more nature with their wheat fields.MORE
By Sylvia Kantor, College of Agricultural, Human & Natural Resource Sciences
In the world’s driest rainfed wheat region, Washington State University researchers have identified summer fallow management practices that can make all the difference for farmers, water and soil conservation, and air quality.
Wheat growers in the Horse Heaven Hills of south-central Washington farm with an average of 6-8 inches of rain a year. Wind erosion has caused blowing dust that exceeded federal air quality standards 20 times in the past 10 years. MORE
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With 39 locations throughout the state, WSU Extension is the front door to the University. Extension builds the capacity of individual, organization, businesses and communities, empowering them to find solutions for local issues and to improve their quality of life. Extension collaborates with communities to create a culture of life-long learning and is recognized for its accessible, learner-centered, relevant, high-quality, unbiased educational programs.
Shellfish production in Washington is a $60 million a year industry. Several major pests plague this industry, resulting in major crop loss. One of the most important pests is subterranean burrowing shrimp. These shrimp bioturbate (stir up) the sediment, causing the oysters to sink and die. For the past 60 years the industry has been using the insecticide Sevin to control this pest, but due to lawsuits its use was phased out in 2012. Without alternative control for shrimp, tens of millions of dollars in annual crop revenue will be lost and the industry will quickly lose its economic viability in southwestern Washington.
The Environmental Protection Agency has identified agriculture as the leading contributor of pollutants to the nation’s rivers, streams, lakes, and reservoirs. These reports often do not separate animal agriculture from other agricultural enterprises, but they do note that pathogens, nutrients, and oxygen-depleting substances associated with manure are three of the top five pollutants. Some emerging issues related to manure management include: endocrine disruptors (hormones), pharmaceuticals (antimicrobials), and antibiotic resistance in bacteria. Adopting farm practices that minimize the environmental impact is important for food safety.
Biosolids are the solids produced during municipal wastewater treatment. Composts are made from a variety of organic materials, including both urban and agriculture sources such as yard trimmings, biosolids, storm debris, food waste or manure, and food processing residues. While these materials have traditionally been viewed as waste, they can play a valuable role as soil amendments in urban and agricultural settings. They provide nutrients and organic matter and they sequester carbon, thereby conserving resources, restoring soils, and combating climate change.
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Alumni & Friends
The WSU College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS) Office of Alumni & Friends is a service unit dedicated to promoting philanthropic support for the college’s research, teaching, and extension programs.
CAHNRS seeks $190 million through the Campaign for WSU. This unprecedented fundraising goal is managed through the CAHNRS Office of Alumni and Friends. If you would like to learn more about the CAHNRS’s fundraising priorities, please explore our website or meet the team.
Through the Campaign for Washington State University, CAHNRS and WSU Extension will play a major role in defining answers to complex issues through truly big ideas—feeding the world, powering the planet, and ensuring the health and well-being of children, families, and communities. See below to learn more about how we are addressing these issues in our strategic and on-going initiatives and development of world-class students.