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Hybrid WN@tL: “Building a Better Potato – Fighting Diseases at the Molecular Level”

July 27 @ 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm

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Speaker: Dennis Halterman, USDA

Description: In the U.S., potato annually accounts for $3.94 billion in market value and the crop is grown on just under one million acres. Wisconsin is the third-largest producer of potatoes in the US. The vast majority of varieties are extremely susceptible to several diseases, requiring intensive management that incorporates cultural practices and preventative fungicides to prevent crop losses. The development of disease-resistant germplasm will reduce the need for chemical applications and will also provide a stable food source with a reduced risk of disease epidemics.

In nature, microbes interact with plants on an enormous scale. Phytopathogens utilize hundreds of molecules, termed ‘effectors’, to manipulate and infect their hosts. The cumulative effect of these proteins on the plant allows the pathogen to avoid defenses and obtain the nutrients it requires to proliferate. In order to combat this molecular onslaught from phytopathogens, plants have evolved genes that encode receptors for key effectors. These ‘resistance gene’ products function to recognize the presence of specific effector molecules presented by the invading pathogen. This recognition event results in a rapid signal cascade, leading to a much stronger and longer-lasting active defense response. This response typically culminates in programmed cell death of the host cell and surrounding cells, which is thought to restrict pathogen spread by limiting the availability of nutrients to the pathogen.

Wild potato species are found in highly diverse habitats, including cloud forests, cactus deserts, scrub vegetation, mountain pastures, high grasslands, and pine forests throughout Central and South America. They carry genes for traits that have not been identified in cultivated potatoes and are a rich source of stress resistance and tuber quality genes. Reports of disease and pest resistance in wild and cultivated relatives of potatoes are abundant and potato breeders have used wild relatives as sources of disease resistance and improved quality for over 150 years. However, despite our best efforts to control diseases through the introduction of resistance into new varieties, pathogen populations continue to change to overcome resistance. This occurs through the adaptation of effector ‘toolboxes’ within the pathogen to avoid detection by the plant or to actively suppress plant defenses. Our work is focused on understanding the mechanisms of how pathogens ‘break’ resistance in potatoes, and developing strategies that will help us keep up with rapid changes within pathogen populations.

Bio: Dr. Halterman grew up as a child of science and algebra teachers. During the summers, he worked on his extended family’s farms in north-central Illinois, helping to raise 1500+ acres of corn and soybeans. This combination of science, math and agriculture influenced his decision to major in biology and biochemistry at Cornell College in Mt. Vernon, Iowa and he went on to complete a Ph.D. at Purdue University studying tomato disease resistance. Dr. Halterman studied powdery mildew resistance in barley as a USDA/ARS postdoc before accepting his current position in 2004 with the USDA in Madison, Wisconsin. Since then, his research group has worked to identify new sources of disease resistance in wild relatives of potatoes and understand their role in recognizing pathogens and activating resistance. His work has led to the identification of new sources of resistance to potato late blight and a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms of resistance to late blight, PVY, verticillium, and other diseases.

Links: https://www.ars.usda.gov/midwest-area/madison-wi/vegetable-crops-research/people/dennis-halterman/welcome/https://news.cals.wisc.edu/2021/03/16/wild-potatoes-tapped-for-late-blight-guard-duty/https://agresearchmag.ars.usda.gov/2010/may/potatoeshttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gWXDQmmN-jk

If you’ll be watching the Zoom for the first time, please register for the WN@TL Zoom at go.wisc.edu/240r59. 

If you’ve already registered for a previous WN@TL zoom this year, you’re good—you don’t have to register again.

Continue to use the link found in the confirmation message Zoom sent you when you first registered.

WN@TL begins at 7:00pm Central.

You can also watch the web stream at the WN@TL YouTube channel.

Here are the components of the WN@TL User’s Guide

1. The live WN@TL seminar, every Wednesday night, 50 times a year, at 7pm CT in Room 1111 Genetics Biotech Center and on Zoom at go.wisc.edu/240r59 

2. The WN@TL YouTube channel

3. WN@TL on the University Place broadcast channel of PBS Wisconsin 

4. WN@TL on the University Place website 


Park for a small fee in Lot 20, 1390 University Avenue, Madison, WI


July 27
7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Event Category:


Tom Zinnen


UW Biotechnology Center
425 Henry Mall
Madison, WI 53706 United States
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