Maria Monteros, Ph.D.
Challenges to local and global agriculture include: variable and unpredictable weather conditions that alter rainfall patters causing both flooding and droughts; increased demands for agricultural, commercial and personal uses of existing water resources; shifts in insect and disease populations; and desire for low-input agricultural systems that produce more or equal yields with reduced agricultural inputs (water, chemicals and fertilizers). These are the driving forces behind the need for continuous crop improvement strategies to develop new plants that can produce more food, feed and fiber with less inputs or do so in marginal soils with limited water and nutrient availability.
Plant breeding and genomics-based approaches can be used to increase plant yield, forage quality, and stability of production across gradients of water and nutrient availability. We are implementing better strategies to evaluate the performance of plants under a range of stress conditions, identify better performing plants, and integrating multiple strategies to understand mechanisms plants use to cope and thrive under abiotic and biotic stress. One of those strategies is to evaluate, integrate and deploy plants with root systems that are more efficient at capturing water and nutrients from the soil. Also, the availability of genome sequences and a breeder's toolbox for alfalfa and other target species can be used to more efficiently identify genes that allow plants to have higher yields, persist longer in the field, be grazing tolerant and address emerging threats to agricultural productivity including emerging insects and diseases.
- Developing resources and tools to enhance breeding efforts: Alfalfa Breeder's Toolbox
- Genome sequencing and annotation of the alfalfa genome
- Root system architecture to optimize nutrient and water use in alfalfa
- Improving water use efficiency and persistence of alfalfa under drought stress
- Understanding alfalfa adaptation to acid soil syndrome (low pH, Al toxicity and P deficiency)
- Gene regulation mechanisms in alfalfa via miRNAs
- Alfalfa germplasm characterization, trait development and trait integration
- Pecan genomic resources for germplasm characterization and understanding resistance to pecan scab disease