ARDMORE, Okla. — Four Noble Research Institute research teams each received a two-year, $100,000 grant from Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST). The four grants will be used to help improve various aspects of agriculture by fighting pecan scab, improving tall fescue, building plant defenses against disease and helping plants use nitrogen more efficiently.
“Noble Research Institute has the combination of expertise and resources, along with the necessary relationships within the research community, to successfully develop and execute these projects,” said Michael Udvardi, Ph.D., Noble Research Institute chief scientific officer. “We have a wealth of dedicated individuals here and beyond, working together with the ultimate goal of improving agriculture and supporting a healthy environment.”
Pecan and Hickory Scab Fungi
Noble Research Institute’s Carolyn Young, Ph.D., principal investigator, and Jason Shiller, Ph.D., co-principal investigator, will work to evaluate a new potential species of scab fungus found in hickory and determine if infects pecan trees with scab disease.
Pecan scab is the most economically devastating disease impacting pecan production. It’s been estimated that the disease costs pecan growers at least $22 million each year in control and crop losses. Understanding the potential of scab fungi to cause disease on pecan will enable successful management of this crop, whether through breeding of improved varieties or pest management strategies.
Leaf Softness and Nutrition in Tall Fescue
Noble Research Institute’s Mike Trammell, principal investigator, and Carolyn Young, Ph.D., co-principal investigator, will explore the mechanisms, or traits, that determine leaf softness and nutrition in tall fescue varieties. Tall fescue is widely grown in the southern U.S. However, its nutritional value is lower than ideal for many livestock enterprises, providing opportunity for improvement.
The majority of the tall fescue varieties are considered to have a coarse leaf texture, which reduces an animal’s desire to graze, ultimately resulting in lower forage consumption and weight gains. Soft-leaf tall fescue varieties are preferred by cattle and have been associated with increased animal performance. However, these varieties cannot withstand harsh weather conditions across the southern U.S. Identifying the specific traits that determine leaf softness will aid Noble’s breeding program in the development of next-generation tall fescue varieties with improved forage quality and palatability. The new varieties will contribute to the sustainability and profitability of livestock production systems.
Plant Defense-Related Peptides
Noble Research Institute’s Kiran Mysore, Ph.D., principal investigator, and Jose Fonseca, Ph.D., co-principal investigator, were approved to identify and characterize small signaling peptides (SSPs), which are compounds consisting of chains of amino acids. These peptides may trigger responses in plants that help them defend themselves against threats, such as disease caused by plant pathogens.
Once such plant-defense-related peptides are identified and characterized, they can be applied in crop plants to enhance resistance to disease. This approach will decrease the need for chemical pesticide use.
Nitrogen-Use Efficient Plants
Noble Research Institute’s Malay Saha, Ph.D., principal investigator, and co-principal investigators Xueyan Wang, Ph.D., and Prasun Ray, Ph.D., will study how a native grass, switchgrass, obtains nitrogen to grow.
The researchers will investigate if nitrogen-efficient plants release specific compounds through their roots into the soils to recruit beneficial microbes to support high nitrogen-use efficiency. Switchgrass varieties with high nitrogen-use efficiency could be grown on marginal lands (those that cannot be used for food crop production) to produce grazable materials while reducing costs from nitrogen fertilizer use in other grazing crops, increasing soil health and conservation, and easing environmental pollution.