This bi-monthly column condenses the latest news in the field of crop technology, research and products.
YOUR PLANTS ARE LISTENING …
… and they don’t like noisy chewers, according to a new study from two University of Missouri scientists.
Through two experiments, plant scientist Heidi Appel and biologist Reginald Cocroft found plants react defensively to the sound of insect predators munching on plant material. Their research built on past studies that have shown plants can detect the vibrations of sounds, including the comparatively high amplitude vibrations of insects feeding. In one experiment, the scientists subjected one group of small, flowering plants called Arabidopsis thaliana to the sound of caterpillars feeding and left the control group in silence.
In a second experiment, they added non-chewing vibrations for the control group, to see if any old sound, such as wind, would prompt a reaction. They found that the plants that “heard” the caterpillars chewing produced significantly higher amounts of certain chemicals that repel caterpillars. While this study was limited to above-ground feeding noises, the authors suggested that vibrations produced by root-feeding insects could provoke a similar defense system in plant roots. The study could have interesting implications for plant protection technology.
WHEAT GENE COMES TO LIGHT
Researchers at the University of California-Davis have identified the gene that allows wheat plants to sense light and the length of days.
According to a UC Davis press release, the discovery could add one more tool to researchers’ efforts to speed up or slow wheat’s flowering stage. Adjusting the crop’s flowering time could help more northern wheat growers with their shorter growing season, or allow wheat varieties to be tailored to different geographies or climates, the press release speculated.
SOYBEAN DATABASE COMES ONLINE
Soybean research is joining the big data movement, thanks to a group of University of Missouri researchers.
The team has assembled a new, free online database where scientists can enter the results from their experiments and studies and help build a comprehensive trove of soybean research data, according to a university press release. Ideally, farmers, scientists, and other interested parties could use the new database, called Soy Knowledge Base (SoyKB), to test hypotheses or find relevant data for their soybean studies or questions.
The database was designed to be used by many different scientific disciplines, from plant breeding to physics, with the hope of fostering interdisciplinary collaboration. The project was funded by the National Science Foundation, as part of President Barack Obama’s $200 million “Big Data” Initiative.
SEQUENCING SUDDEN DEATH SYNDROME IN SOYBEANS
Iowa State researchers have produced a draft of the genome sequence for Fusarium virguliforme, the fungal pathogen that causes sudden death syndrome in soybeans.
According to a university press release, researchers expect the sequencing to help them identify how the pathogen works and how to build more SDS-resistant soybean varieties. SDS is a costly disease; one report from the University of Missouri estimates that 444 million bushels have been lost to the pathogen from 1996 and 2010. It is also difficult to treat, since the primary deciding factor is weather — the fungus prefers cool, wet soils.
The sequencing was funded by the Iowa Soybean Association and the Soybean Research Development Council. In January 2013, lead researcher Madan Bhattacharyya, an Iowa State agronomist, and his team also received a $5.35 million grant to improve SDS-resistance in soybeans.