Research roundup

FIND OUT WHAT’S NEW IN THE WORLD OF RESEARCH

Better corn yields with less fertilizer
Samantha Beattie
University of Guelph researchers are looking to China to find particular genes that make corn plants more tolerant to lower-nutrient conditions. They say this will help Ontario producers cut back on fertilizer application, save money and benefit the environment.

“The scientists from the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences are valuable partners because they have considerable expertise in fields ranging from large-scale DNA sequencing to field assessment of different crop lines, as well as access to regions with multiple growing seasons,” says Molecular and Cellular Biology Professor Steven Rothstein, who is leading the collaboration.

One research project is looking at how corn plants’ microRNAs respond to varying nitrogen levels. MicroRNAs are molecules responsible for regulating the amount of proteins a cell produces depending on the situation – in this case, the amount of nitrogen available.

Rothstein says research such as this one will help the team understand why some lines are less dependent on fertilizers than others, ultimately leading to improved plant genetics.

Collaborators are Drs. Chuanxiao Xie and Chengsha He from the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences.

Funding is provided by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation’s Ontario Research Fund.

Identifying fungus to improve food quality
Erin Calhoun
The fungus Fusarium graminearum infects corn, wheat and potatoes, and leads to the production of mycotoxins such as deoxynivalenol, commonly known as DON. Mycotoxins pose health risks to humans and animals, and decrease yield and quality of grain.

Weather Innovations plant pathologist Rishi Burlakoti and University of Guelph researcher Lily Tamburic-Ilincic are investigating how different factors such as the type of crop, geography and weather variables influence the F. graminearum population and their potential to produce mycotoxins.

Fusarium graminearum isolates were recovered from corn, wheat and potatoes. About 300 strains of F. graminearum were isolated from the samples and identified using molecular markers.

Burlakoti and Tamburic-Ilincic say identifying fungal strains will improve crop screening against related diseases and data collected will be useful for evaluating food safety risks necessary for policy development at provincial and national levels.

Going forward, they expect to continue identification of fungus strains and validate mycotoxin profiles.

Funding for this research was provided by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, the Ministry of Rural Affairs and Grain Farmers of Ontario.

Natural enemies are model citizens in aphid fight
Katharine Tuerke
Soybean aphid populations are always on the minds of growers – especially trying to figure out how to prevent or control an outbreak. Now, it turns out natural enemies might be farmers’ greatest allies against aphids. 

Professor Rebecca Hallett, School of Environmental Sciences, University of Guelph, has developed a model to predict soybean aphid control from three natural enemies – lady beetles, Asian wasps and insidious flower bugs — under various environmental and agronomic conditions.

To create and calibrate the model, scouting data was collected on soybean aphid and natural enemy populations as well as weather conditions. Next, simulations were conducted using growing seasons, natural enemy densities and planting dates to predict soybean aphid populations.

Then they ran the model and found predicted soybean aphid populations accurately reflected scouting data. That validated the model.

“Using natural enemies to limit soybean aphid populations is an environmental and economically beneficial option that farmers should remember when considering pesticide application options,” says Hallett.

Funding for this work was provided by the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Pesticide Risk Reduction Program, Grain Farmers of Ontario and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.


Research Roundup is provided by members of SPARK (Students Promoting Awareness of Research Knowledge) at the University of Guelph’s Office of Research. For more information, contact a SPARK writer at 519-824-4120, ext. 52667.

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