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Plant Biology, Farm Walk, Cacao Genome

Posted by | July 9, 2008

WSU Plant Biologists Headline at Intenational Conference

WSU scientists presented headline addresses at the 2008 conference of the American Society of Plant Biologists last week in Mérida, Mexico. Their presentations ranged from research on preventing diseases in crop plants to the invention of new tools to explore the inner workings of plant genomes.

Vaccinating plants against diseases is a possibility, according to new findings by Alisa Huffaker, a post-doctoral researcher in the Institute of Biological Chemistry. Huffaker said that with new evidence of protection against bacteria, certain plant hormones appear to prime defense mechanisms that then give the plant a jump start in combating new invaders.

“It’s not targeted to any specific organism, but it’s enough of a boost that it’s able to protect [the plant] against many different kinds of pathogens at the same time,” she said. The research could lead to methods for protecting crop plants against a wide range of pathogens, increasing yields and allowing farmers to reduce their use of fungicides and other chemical control agents.

John Browse, Regents’ Professor in the Institute of Biological Chemistry, explores another aspect of plant defenses–how a hormone called jasmonate causes plants to turn on genes that provide immunity to pathogens and defense against insects. Browse and his colleagues have discovered that jasmonate causes the removal and destruction of the proteins that prevent defense-related genes from being activated.

“The findings from this basic research will help scientists engineer plants that can better defend themselves against disease and attacking insects,” he said.

Amit Dhingra, assistant professor in the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, will chair the session on emerging technologies in plant research and give a presentation describing a technique he devised to make genome sequencing easier, faster and less costly.

Dhingra, in collaboration with WSU computer scientist Ananth Kalyanaraman, has developed a new algorithm and software to efficiently automate processes that he had previously accomplished in his wet-lab work.

Dhingra said his new sequencing technique allows researchers to do in a week what would take six to eight months using the conventional method.

A diseased tomato leaf and, bottom, tissue culture of Arabidopsis, a model plant genome.

A diseased tomato leaf and, bottom, tissue culture of Arabidopsis, a model plant genome.

Bilingual Farm Walk in Everson

Alm Hill Gardens is a 35-year old diversified, fresh-market organic farm and the site of the next Farm Walk. Participants will learn about an emerging, cooperative business model that is gaining interest around the state and country.

The July 28 farm walk, offered in both English and Spanish, will highlight the practices in the field and at the market that make Alm Hill Gardens unique. From one of the original year-round, direct-market farms at Pike Place Market, Alm Hill has transformed into a worker-managed cooperative that sells at 17 farmers markets per week, supplies dozens of northwest Washington restaurants, schools, and grocers, and participates in community-supported agriculture.

Join the Alm Hill Gardens team for a day on a blossoming cooperative powered by new generation and Latino farmers. Learn how Alm Hill Gardens serves as a model for farm succession and community building. In collaboration with the non-profit organization Growing Washington, the farm also serves as the hub for northwest Washington’s farm-to-school efforts, a multiple-farm community-supported agriculture project, a farm stand in downtown Bellingham, a collaborative I-5 corridor farm-to-restaurant system, the Whatcom County Food Bank Farm, and other community projects.

The farm walk is Monday, July 28 from noon to 3:30. The cost is $10.00 for Tilth Producers of Washington members and $15.00 for non-members. Register on-site or pre-register by mailing a check to Tilth Producers, PO Box 85056, Seattle, WA 98145. A brown bag lunch is recommended. Beverages will be provided. The farm walk will be offered in both English and Spanish.

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Alm Hill Gardens farmer Gretchen Hoyt extends her eggplant's season in a hoophouse.

Alm Hill Gardens farmer Gretchen Hoyt extends her eggplants’ season in a hoophouse.

Sequencing the Cacao Genome to Safeguard Chocolate

For the past 15 years, the global cocoa industry has confronted a trio of devastating fungal diseases that cost growers an estimated $700 million in losses annually. Now scientists at the Agricultural Research Service Subtropical Horticultural Research Station in Miami, Fla., are developing productive cacao (Theobroma cacao) trees resistant to these diseases: witches’ broom, frosty pod and black pod.

The research is based upon traditional varietal selection and breeding enhanced by the use of DNA-derived markers associated with disease resistance.

WSU horticultural genomicist Dorrie Main will be assisting the project by developing detailed genetic maps and assembling the sequence fragments into the complete genome sequence.

The research is funded in part by candymaker Mars, Inc. IBM is also lending a virtual hand through its Blue Gene supercomputer, which will be used to analyze the cacao genome.

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" All I really need is love, but a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt," said Peanuts' Lucy Van Pelt in one of Charles Schultz's comics. WSU is partnering with other institutions to keep cacao safe and productive.

From perfect pods to perfect confection: “All I really need is love, but a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt,” said Peanuts‘ Lucy Van Pelt in one of Charles Schultz’s comics. WSU is partnering with other institutions to keep cacao safe and productive.