Alison Bentley of the National Institute of Agricultural Botany and Ari Sadanandom of the University of Durham both in the United Kingdom will examine whether a new molecular link that they found explaining the increase in plant diseases (biotic factors) associated with high nutrient levels (abiotic factors) can be exploited to maximize wheat crop yield with minimal negative impact on the environment. Wheat, one of the first domesticated food crops, has been grown for over 10,000 years and is critically important to global food supply. Traditionally, crop yields are maximized by applying nitrogen fertilizer to stimulate growth, and fungicides and pesticides to prevent disease. These approaches are expensive and can harm the environment. Another complication is that increasing amounts of nitrogen fertilizer also increases the occurrence of disease. They have identified a group of transcription factors (TFs) - proteins that control expression of specific genes – that appear to protect plants against the fungus Septoria specifically under varying nitrogen levels. To investigate this, they will create transgenic wheat to increase or decrease each TF and explore the effect on disease resistance and growth in different concentrations of nitrogen. Understanding this relationship will allow them to boost plant resistance to disease under high growth conditions, and thereby optimize crop yield with maximal economic gain and minimal environmental impact.
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