INVESTIGATORS: Larry Smart (PI), Christine Smart
INSTITUTIONS: Cornell University, Ithaca NY
PROJECT SUMMARY:The generation of renewable energy and the manufacture of biobased products can significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and begin to limit the impacts of global climate change. Biomass from sustainably grown dedicated energy crops is a key feedstock for bioenergy and biobased products. Shrub willow (Salix) is emerging as a superior bioenergy crop in many respects, but advanced regional breeding programs to generate improved, new willow cultivars were initiated only in the last two decades. Increasing yield is the main priority for breeding, but a major trait needed to produce consistently high yields is stable disease resistance. The greatest long-term disease threat to shrub willow is leaf rust caused by Melampsora spp. This project will apply cutting edge genetic and genomic approaches to improve our understanding of the genetic diversity of Melampsora rust and to characterize the genetic basis for rust resistance in shrub willow. We will use genotyping-by-sequencing to generate high-density molecular markers for characterization of rust isolated collected from willow plantings across the Northeast and Midwest. We will use this same marker technology for genetic mapping of rust resistance in a segregating F2 family of willow, in diverse F1 hybrid mapping populations of willow, and in a willow association mapping population. Finally, we will map variation in willow leaf gene expression in response to rust infection to identify specific genes involved in resistance. This project will identify genes involved in rust resistance in willow that may be introgressed into new, improved willow cultivars through hybridization. We will also generate molecular markers linked to those rust resistance genes that can be used in the early selection of resistant seedlings in breeding programs. Willow cultivars with improved rust resistance should result in greater yields, wider adoption of willow bioenergy crops, and increased production of renewable energy.
Name: Smart, Larry