Staskawicz Lab: Improving Food Security

September 16, 2015

Research to develop better disease resistance in staple crops

Professor Brian Staskawicz (David Galvez photo)By Karyn Houston
Plant & Microbial Biology

UC Berkeley Professor Brian Staskawicz will take part in a newly funded global effort to improve food security and develop better disease resistance in staple crops that feed the world, including potatoes, tomatoes, mustard greens and domesticated wheat.

Staskawicz, a professor in the Department of Plant & Microbial Biology, will share in a $2.3 million award from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. The money will be granted to the Two Blades Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to the discovery, advancement and delivery of durable disease resistance in crops.

The Two Blades Foundation will coordinate the four research groups; the Dangl Lab at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; the Staskawicz Lab at UC Berkeley; the Jones Lab at the Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich; and the Weigel Lab at Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tubingen.
The teams will investigate the mechanisms used by three major agricultural plant systems — Brassicaceae (crucifers), Solanaceae (nightshades), Triticeae ( domestic wheat and related species) — to resist infection by disease-causing pathogens. They will also create a publicly available database of sequence information of the plants studied.

Understanding Plant Immunity

Plants have evolved a wide array of natural immunity mechanisms against diseases, including receptors that help resist infection from disease-causing microbes.

Understanding plant immunity is essential to helping reduce diseases that can radically alter the production and quality of food. With a rapidly growing global population, losses to important food crops, like potatoes and wheat, can be disastrous. Not only can plant disease have an economic impact, it can affect our health and natural ecosystems.

One class of these immune system receptors is known as the nucleotide-binding, leucine-rich repeat (NLR) proteins. This receptor class activates a plant’s defense mechanisms when it recognizes a microbe. NLR proteins are the most diverse proteins encoded by plant genomes, with most plants having the capacity to produce hundreds of different NLR proteins, matching the diversity and adaptability of the microbes encountered by plants.

As part of the project, the teams will develop a publicly available database containing sequence information on the plant species investigated. This open-access database will help other scientists and agricultural agencies around the world improve disease resistance in plants and better help address food security.

Important Links

Staskawicz profile page
Two Blades Foundation
Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation
Press Release about the grant