Bacteria and fungi make a wide variety of small molecules using large genes known as NRPSs and PKSs. When directed at pests and pathogens, these small molecules can greatly benefit the health and productivity of crop plants. Others of these can be toxic to plants and animals. For example, aflatoxins are linked to acute illness, stunted growth, and mortality in humans and livestock.
Recent USDA-NIFA research awards highlight the important role of NRPSs and PKSs in agricultural productivity. Jenny Kao-Kniffin (SIPS Section of Horticulture) and Antonio DiTommaso (SIPS Section of Soil and Crop Sciences) have been awarded funding to uncover novel NRPS and PKS products that are produced by microbes living in the soil and have weed suppressing properties.
Michael Milgroom’s research program (SIPS Section of Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology) has been awarded funding to determine how aflatoxin, a PKS product made by the fungus Aspergillus flavus, benefits the fungus. A. flavus infects corn, producing carcinogenic aflatoxins that contaminate food supplies worldwide. Better understanding of the role of this toxin in A. flavus ecology will help researchers design non-toxigenic biocontrol strains of the fungus that can out-compete toxin producers.
Four Cornell projects receive $1.65 million from USDA (Cornell Chronicle)
EXTENDING RED QUEEN HYPOTHESIS TO THE MANAGEMENT OF WEED POPULATIONS:CAN PRODUCTS OF CO-EVOLVING INTERACTIONS BE HARNESSED FOR WEED CONTROL ($272,078; Kao-Kniffin and DiTommaso, lead investigators)
ECOLOGICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF AFLATOXIN PRODUCTION BY ASPERGILLUS ($499,980; Milgroom, lead investigator)