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USDA Awards Researchers $6.5M to Advance Plant Disease Resistance With Genomics

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – A team led by researchers from Michigan State University has been awarded a $6.5 million grant by the US Department of Agriculture to develop genomic tools and technologies for creating disease-resistant cucurbit crops.

The Cucurbitaceae family includes a number of high-value crop plants such as watermelons, cucumbers, squash, and pumpkins. While Cucurbitaceae crops generate an estimated $1.7 billion a year in farm gate value in the US, viral and fungal pathogens remain a significant hurdle to their cultivation.

With the grant, which is being awarded under the USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture Specialty Crop Research Initiative, MSU scientist Rebecca Grumet and collaborators aim to use applied genomics to enhance the plant's ability to resist disease, enabling farming to rely less on chemical treatments.

Specifically, the researchers will work to develop genomic and bioinformatics web-based platforms for genotyping by sequencing, sequence data processing and analysis, breeding data information management, and genome-wide association studies, according to the USDA.

They will also map resistance locations and develop markers for introgression of resistances to key cucurbit diseases; develop models to define, create parameters for, simulate, and analyze costs of cucurbit production and disease control; and set up a cucurbit disease website providing information about disease diagnosis and control in both English and Spanish.

"With the advent of next-generation DNA sequencing technologies, we can approach problems in ways that were not possible before and can use those methods to identify genetic regions within the crop that are associated with disease resistance," Grumet said in a statement. 

Also participating in the research are scientists from Boyce Thompson Institute; USDA Agricultural Research Service, Charleston, South Carolina; Cornell University; USDA-ARS, Salinas, California; Texas A&M University; North Carolina State University; USDA-ARS and the University of Wisconsin.