Recently, the world population reached the eight billion landmark. To meet the food demand for this growing population, we will need to increase our food production in 2050 by 60% of the 2005 level. However, we also face a reduction in arable land and climate instability.
With an increasing population and decreasing arable land under changing climates, there is a dire need to increase crop productivity to meet the exponential growth of the global population.
One of the significant threats to increasing crop productivity is crop loss due to pathogens. E.g., in 2018, soybean diseases led to 14.6 million tonnes (536 million bushels) of soybean crop loss
Cultivated soybean (Glycine max) is a staple crop grown extensively for its forage and oil properties. Phytophthora sojae is a soil-borne oomycete and the causal agent of Phytophthora stem and root rot (PSR) in soybean. Yield losses attributed to P. sojae can range from negligible to 100% depending on disease severity, with worldwide estimates exceeding 1.1 million metric tons (~40.4 million bushels) annually.
Management of P. sojae is achieved through a combination of genetic and cultural strategies.
Figure showing different ways of managing P. sojae. Image credit: Shyaron Poudel.
However, P. sojae is remarkably adaptable to chemical control measures and host genetic resistance. Hence, developing novel genetic, cultural, and biological tools for ameliorating PSR is of the utmost importance, with an ecological balance by reducing chemical uses. Thus, the primary goal of our research is to look beyond traditional breeding methods to reduce crop losses due to PSR. Molecular soybean-P. sojae interactions can provide such alternative approaches and achieve sustainable agriculture. Thus, our research focuses on three broad questions:
How does P. sojae interact with the beneficial soil microbiome to get the upper hand, and how can we use this information to formulate a biofertilizer to suppress P. sojae colonization in roots?
How does soybean recognize P. sojae infection, what critical molecular players in this process, and how can we manipulate them to make soybeans resistance more durable?
What cultural practices are most conducive to the rapid evolution of P. sojae to overcome host defense, and how can we change those practices to slow P. sojae evolution to keep current resistant cultivars more durable?