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Combating soybean disease with natural chemicals
madge graham, plant pathology Soybean is the second most important crop for Ohio’s economy. Its new role as a material in biodiesel and other bioproduct applications has further boosted its original uses in feed, oil, and food additives. However, despite many years of breeding efforts, pest damage still contributes to a large portion of annual crop loss. One possible solution is to induce a plant’s own innate defense mechanisms with chemicals.
Despite many years of breeding efforts, pest damage still contributes to a large portion of annual soybean crop loss.
The herbicide lactofen has been identified by the team’s previous work as a chemical that can activate latent defense responses in soybean, and it works to provide resistance in the field. This project explored the effectiveness, induced gene expression, and metabolite changes of two naturally occurring, more environmentally friendly chemicals, fumonisin and juglone, in protecting soybean from pest damage. Biologically, these two chemicals impart similar effects as lactofen in soybean. In searching for natural chemicals with soybean disease protection properties, the research team found that both fumonisin (from the fungus Fusarium) and juglone (from black walnut trees) cause a localized cell death. They also reduce soybean infection from Phytophthora sojae, a microorganism that rots soybean stems and roots, in laboratory disease analyses. From global analyses, the project found that fumonisin and juglone induce novel genes and metabolites. While many of these gene expressions are unique to the respective chemical, some are shared. As the research team narrowed down the induced genes to the shared ones, they found a cell death-related gene and a gene for a specific transcription factor (a type of gene that regulates the expression of other genes). Interestingly, both chemicals also induce both known and previously unreported metabolites, including a series of prenylated isoflavones, which coincides with the
onset of the cell death program and thus can be considered potential chemical biomarkers. Furthermore, these very specific genes and metabolites give clues to the underlying mechanisms between cell death and disease resistance. This information, in turn, can be utilized to aid in the search of other natural chemicals with similar activities. This project showed that like the herbicide lactofen, natural chemicals such as fumonisin and juglone can act as plant defense-activators. The common thread is triggering the initiation of a local cell death program, which in turn stimulates the host’s own multi-pronged defense responses. Fumonisin and juglone are of totally different classes of chemistry from one another and have different targets in plants. This study paves the way for the development of other potential natural chemicals that protect plants from diseases. In addition, some novel genes uncovered from these studies can serve as excellent candidates for genetic engineering, or they can be targets of traditional breeding and selections for crops with elevated disease resistance.
SEEDS: The OARDC Research Enhancement Competitive Grants Program