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Edge of Ag News

Nov 03, 2023

Videos showcase UW organic leaders

The University of Wisconsin–Madison is featuring a new video series called The First Crop: Emerging Organic Leaders at UW. Viewers can learn about the graduate students who are preparing for future roles as leaders in the organic industry. Visit go.wisc.edu/organicagvideoseries to watch the videos.

Foundation awarded sustainability grant

A Wisconsin partnership led by WiSys, a supporting foundation of the University of Wisconsin System, recently was awarded $999,911 from the U.S. National Science Foundation's Regional Innovation Engines program. WiSys supports research, innovation and entrepreneurship across the state.

The award will support a partnership of 30 organizations from across the state as they develop a regional innovation engine to harness the region's talent and intellectual capital to make Wisconsin a leader in sustainable agriculture. The partnership is comprised of all 13 University of Wisconsin institutions, as well as several industry, nonprofit and government entities.

Among its many goals the partnership plans to support the launch of sustainability-technology startups and attract investment capital to fund ideas in the field of sustainable agriculture. Another goal is to identify and prepare for future needs of the agricultural value chain, including workforce needs. Visit new.nsf.gov – search for "regional innovation engines" – or contact venturehome.org/sustainableag for more information.

Tart-cherry genome sequenced

Researchers recently sequenced the genome of the Montmorency tart cherry. They were searching for genes associated with tart-cherry trees that bloom later in the season. They started by comparing deoxyribonucleic-acid – DNA – sequences from late-blooming trees to the sequenced genome of a related species, the peach. They said they were surprised that the genetic discrepancies between the species outweighed the similarities. That led them to create the first annotated Montmorency tart-cherry genome and identify the DNA segments that code for each gene.

The complexities come from the tart cherry's parental plant chromosomes. Tart cherries are allotetraploids. That means instead of having two sets of chromosomes like humans they have four sets from at least two different species.

Having the genome sequenced opens possibilities for future research that will ultimately benefit the industry and consumers by growing more trees that can withstand varying spring weather and produce more cherries.

The study was published in Horticulture Research. Visit academic.oup.com/hr – search for "genome of Montmorency" – for more information.

Microbes key to sequestering carbon

Microbes are the most important factor in determining how much carbon is stored in the soil, according to a new study conducted by researchers at Cornell University. They found that the role microbes play in storing carbon in the soil is at least four times more important than any other process, including decomposition of bio-matter.

The study, "Microbial Carbon Use Efficiency Promotes Global Soil Carbon Storage," describes an approach that combines a microbial computer model with data assimilation and machine learning to analyze big data related to the carbon cycle.

The method measured microbial carbon use efficiency, which tells how much carbon was used by microbes for growth versus how much was used for metabolism. When used for growth carbon becomes sequestered by microbes in cells and ultimately in the soil. When used for metabolism carbon is released as a side product in the air as carbon dioxide, where it acts as a greenhouse gas. Growth of microbes is more important than metabolism in determining how much carbon is stored in the soil, the researchers said.

The new insights point researchers toward studying farming practices that may influence microbial carbon use efficiency to improve soil health. Future studies may investigate steps to increase overall soil-carbon sequestration by microbes. Researchers may also study how different types of microbes and substrates may influence soil carbon storage.

The study recently was published in Nature. Visit nature.com – search for "microbial carbon use efficiency" – for more information.

Traits transferred sans transgenics

Traditional Agrobacterium strains deliver transfer-deoxyribonucleic acid – or T-DNA – into plants and integrate it into a plant's genome. That can create a plant that expresses traits, such as improved drought resistance. But T-DNA is permanently integrated into the plant genome, creating "transgenic" plants that can be either regulated or banned.

Biologists at Purdue University recently developed Agrobacterium strains that deliver T-DNA so plants can still be modified to express valued traits, but aren't transgenic. That means traditional methods to remove T-DNA aren't needed.

The strains were created by Stanton Gelvin, a biology professor, and Lan-Ying Lee, a research scientist, in the Purdue University-Department of Biological Sciences. The VirD2 mutant Agrobacterium strains can carry T-DNA that delivers and expresses genome-engineering reagents, such as Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats – CRISPR-Cas. The plant genome may be altered, but no transgenic plant is created.

The traditional method to remove integrated T-DNA from transgenic plants is to sexually cross a transgenic plant with a non-transgenic plant.

Gelvin and Lee have successfully used their strains on preliminary genome engineering of model plant species. Their altered strains mutated a tobacco phytoene desaturase gene, encoding an enzyme involved in chlorophyll synthesis, at 50 percent to 80 percent of levels mutated by normal, wild-type Agrobacterium strains. The strains did that without generating a transgenic plant.

The Purdue researchers are continuing to conduct more experiments as they try to make strains easier to use in academic laboratory and industrial settings. They’ve disclosed their Agrobacterium strains to the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization, which has applied for patent protection on the intellectual property.

Commercial partners with an interest in developing or licensing the strains may contact Abhijit Karve, director of business development, at [email protected]. Contact [email protected] for more information.

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Videos showcase UW organic leaders Foundation awarded sustainability grant Tart-cherry genome sequenced Microbes key to sequestering carbon Traits transferred sans transgenics