Insect-deterring sorghum compounds may be an eco-friendly pesticide.

For this study, at the University's Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center, researchers grew two nearly identical lines of sorghum — alike except that one, a mutant, did not possess the functional gene responsible for producing the flavonoids that essentially poison corn leaf aphids. Then researchers compared how the lines were faring. Image: © Getty Images / Songsak Paname

For this study, at the University's Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center, researchers grew two nearly identical lines of sorghum — alike except that one, a mutant, did not possess the functional gene responsible for producing the flavonoids that essentially poison corn leaf aphids. Then researchers compared how the lines were faring. Image: © Getty Images / Songsak Paname

Team: Surinder Chopra, Iffa Gaffoor, Sampurna Sattar, Cullen Dixon, Nadia Frock, Juliet Moen, Gary Thompson, Consuelo De Moraes, Mark Mescher, and Rupesh Kariyat

Modern agriculture typically tackles the myriad pests and pathogens that attack crop plants with synthetic chemicals, many of which are unsafe to humans and the environment. Pathogens can develop resistance to these chemicals. Consumers are concerned about residual toxicity of traditional pesticides and fungicides, so safe crop protection strategies are needed for sustainable production of economically important crops. New biobased pest control mechanisms are being explored. 

A research team has found that a group of flavonoid compounds produced in sorghum act as natural pesticides and fungicides. The researchers developed near-isogenic lines of sorghum and maize, and used them to discover the role of flavonoid phytoalexins in host-plant defense. This project has developed vast genetic resources while focusing on two anthracnose fungal pathogens and insect pests. They filed a provisional patent application on the compounds’ actions.

This project demonstrated the role of sorghum flavonoids in anthracnose resistance using sorghum near-isogenic lines that differ in their ability to produce these flavonoids. The group made a striking discovery that, in addition to fungal resistance, these flavonoids also confer resistance against certain species of aphids. Through the understanding of plant genetics, this project is moving toward breeding sorghum and maize crops that can resist several different pests and pathogens. Plant-based biopesticides are considered nontoxic to humans but toxic to pests and pathogens, are environmentally friendly, and may reduce the use of chemical pesticides.

Funding

USDA NIFA and Hatch Appropriations

News

Insect-deterring sorghum compounds may be eco-friendly pesticide

Thematic Research Area

Advanced Agricultural and Food Systems

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217 Agricultural Administration Building
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Office for Research and Graduate Education

Address

217 Agricultural Administration Building
University Park, PA 16802-2600