Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Climate Change, Viruses

Posted by | February 23, 2011

Climate Change, Grain Production Is Focus of $20 Million Grant for UI, WSU, OSU

“The challenges that we are facing in agriculture are enormous. Everybody who has looked for even a moment at the population increase that is facing our planet, coupled with the arable land issues, coupled with the water use issue, coupled with the regional climate change issues understands immediately how grand this challenge is.”
“The challenges that we are facing in agriculture are enormous. Everybody who has looked for even a moment at the population increase that is facing our planet, coupled with the arable land issues, coupled with the water use issue, coupled with the regional climate change issues understands immediately how grand this challenge is.”

Helping one of the largest wheat producing regions in the world mitigate and successfully adapt to climate change is the focus of research that scientists from the University of Idaho, Washington State University and Oregon State University will conduct with a five-year, $20 million grant from the USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture.

NIFA officials announced the grant this morning along with two other $20 million awards to the University of Florida and Iowa State University. UI is the lead institution for the Pacific Northwest grant and will receive $8 million. WSU and USDA Agricultural Research Service scientists, also adjunct faculty at WSU, at Pullman will receive $8 million. OSU will receive $4 million.

Although they emphasize that there are more than 60 different agri-ecological zones within the region, project scientists say, in general, temperatures in the Pacific Northwest’s prime grain growing regions are expected to increase by 3.6 degrees by 2050. Winter precipitation is expected to increase by approximately 5 percent in that same time frame; summer precipitation, however, is expected to decrease. They also say a 5 percent increase is relatively small compared to the large variations in precipitation throughout the region from year to year.

“The challenges that we are facing in agriculture are enormous,” said Howard Grimes, vice president for research at WSU. “Everybody who has looked for even a moment at the population increase that is facing our planet, coupled with the arable land issues, coupled with the water use issue, coupled with the regional climate change issues understands immediately how grand this challenge is.”

Scientists from a variety of disciplines at the universities will tackle different aspects of the climate change challenge – cropping practices, weed and disease management and prevention, economics, computer modeling and mapping, soil science, rural sociology, carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas emissions, and education and Extension. The team will include 22 principal investigators, 14 graduate students, three post-graduate researchers, and several technical and administrative staff. They will create a region-wide research, outreach and education network to address climate change issues.

“This project is unique in several important ways,” said Dan Bernardo, dean of the WSU College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences. “It is interdisciplinary and inter-institutional, but it is also unique in the sheer magnitude of funding and scope. This larger, integrated, coordinated effort truly has the potential to be transformational for wheat and barley producers in our region.”

Thirteen percent of the nation’s wheat and 80 percent of the country’s soft white wheat exports come from the Pacific Northwest.

More information about the scientists involved and their roles in the project is available at http://www.uidaho.edu/reacchpna.

Chasing Viruses in the Wild

Where the wild things are: a WSU plant pathologist is tracking the origins of viruses that plague economically important plants.
Where the wild things are: a WSU plant pathologist is tracking the origins of viruses that plague economically important plants.

Where do viruses come from? To safeguard our food supply from virus threats, Hanu Pappu, a professor and chair of Washington State University’s Department of Plant Pathology whose research is sponsored by the American Dahlia Society and USDA, is collaborating with graduate students and a fellow scientist from across the country on some answers to this challenging question.

There are more than a thousand known plant viruses in the world. The floriculture industry, with an annual value of more than $10 billion in the United States, is plagued by a continuously rising number of viruses of unknown origin.

Pappu and others exploring plant viruses have found that answers lie with the wild relatives of cultivated plants. In the case of dahlia viruses, this requires traveling to the mountain ranges of Mexico for the greatest diversity of wild dahlia species. Given the extensive planning, time, and resources involved with such a trip, Pappu was lucky to find a cooperative evolutionary plant geneticist, Dayle Saar, who had already made the journey with grant funds from the National Science Foundation. A faculty member at Murray State University in Kentucky, Saar collected 36 wild dahlia species while in the Mexican mountains.

Learn more about plant pathology research at WSU by visiting http://plantpath.wsu.edu/index.htm.
Learn more about plant pathology research at WSU by visiting http://plantpath.wsu.edu/index.htm.

“It was just amazing that we both were asking similar questions while working 2000 miles apart,” Pappu said. Saar shared the wild species that she had gathered in their native habitat with Pappu, and he asked Ph.D. student Sahar Eid, who had been studying these viruses in cultivated species, to apply molecular techniques to see if the same virus elements were present in the wild species. “To our surprise, Eid found the same DNA virus in these wild species even though the plants looked perfectly healthy,” Pappu said.

This is the first time that DNA virus sequences were ever discovered in a wild plant in its center of diversity. “The most exciting thing about this discovery is that these virus elements were found in the plant’s natural habitat where there was no known human activity” Pappu said.

The findings from this collaborative research between Pappu and Saar were published in the British journal Plant Pathology with Eid as the lead author. Pappu said, “This project provided valuable training and mentoring to the Ph.D. student in ecology and genetic diversity of viruses in wild habitats.”

Another of Pappu’s doctoral students, Christie Almeyda, is following up on these findings. Almeyda is dissecting the virus genome isolated from the wild dahlia species to identify what genes are needed for these viruses to survive, spread, and cause disease.

“We are beginning to understand how viruses, while co-existing with plants in the wild, might have ‘learned’ to infect crops and cause serious losses,” Pappu said. “What we learn will help us develop novel methods to interfere in the infection process to control these viruses.”

By Kacie McPartland, WSU CAHNRS MNEC intern