FOCUS ON AGRICULTURE: Charcoal rot a 'top 10' disease affecting soybean yield

Posted: Jul. 24, 2014 5:13 pm Updated: Aug. 28, 2014 11:15 am

With over 100 diseases that can attack soybean crops, why would charcoal rot rise to the top of the most wanted list?

University of Illinois scientists cite the earth's changing climate as one reason that more research is needed on the fungus that causes charcoal rot.

"As the climate continues to change and we see more extremes in the weather, including hotter, drier summers, this fungus will have more favorable conditions to gain a foothold in soybean and other crops," said Osman Radwan, an U of I molecular biologist. "If we look at diseases of soybean, we find that soybean cyst nematode is at the top, but in the past decade or so, charcoal rot has become one of the top 10 diseases that affect soybean yield."

He suggests that a research strategy be created to develop a high-yielding soybean that is both resistant to charcoal rot and drought tolerant.

"Right now we are screening lines of soybeans for charcoal rot and drought stress, in collaboration with Glen Hartman, a USDA-ARS and U of I plant pathologist," Radwan said. "Our ultimate goal is to identify the line that shows resistance to both charcoal rot and drought stress and in this way improve soybean tolerance to both the pathogen and the extreme weather conditions."

But Radwan emphasized it's not just soybean crops at risk.

The fungus causes charcoal rot in about 500 other host plants, including corn, sorghum, sunflower and other important crops.

The fungus also grows in high concentrations of salt, which isn't much of a problem to growers in the United States, but it is for farmers in developing countries where salinity is considered an issue. Consequently, the plant must be able to tolerate drought, salt and resist this fungus at the same time.

Swine research unit

A substantial gift for a new biomedical swine research unit at the University of Illinois will increase capability for research regarding learning and memory in young pigs with the goal of understanding how nutrition affects brain development in human infants.

Ryan Dilger, a U of I assistant professor of nutrition in the Department of Animal Sciences, said the new unit set to be in place in early 2015 will enhance the ability of researchers to make new discoveries in cognitive development by using behavior to measure brain function.

"In the past, we have looked at such things as iron deficiency and its effects on learning and memory, and this gift will allow us to develop next generation tools to test how early-life nutrition relates to brain function in an animal model that closely approximates developmental processes in humans," Dilger said.

Current facilities have allowed Dilger and his lab to raise and monitor 24 pigs at a time from birth. The new facility will provide the space and technology to work with 48 pigs at a time, with greater control over nutrient delivery and video monitoring of piglet behavior. An automated liquid feeding system, continuous video monitoring and specialized testing and observation spaces will allow the unit to run more efficiently.

Dilger explained that as young animals and humans consume a complete and nutritious diet, they grow well.

"Here we ask, what is the optimal behavioral performance, in this case learning and memory, and is that function amenable to nutritional intervention? Then we can use cellular and molecular techniques to determine exactly how the relationship between nutrition and brain function works," he said.

-- Compiled by Herald-Whig Staff Writer Deborah Gertz Husar

-- Compiled by Herald-Whig Staff Writer Deborah Gertz Husar