American Agriculture is Getting Rusty

In the year 2000, a disease called Wheat Stripe Rust occurred in more than 20 American states. This was the largest incidence in US history. While fungicide can reduce losses, the disease no doubt hurt farmers across the United States. Wheat Stripe Rust continues to be widespread around the United States, and is particularly threatening in the Pacific Northwest, west of the Cascades, where annual temperatures are cool and humidity is high. The weather in the Willamette Valley provides ideal growing conditions for the fungus, which looks like golden striations on the leaves of healthy wheat.

from, "PhD students fight Wheat Strip Rust", 2014.

from, “PhD students fight Wheat Strip Rust”, 2014.

Joining us on the show Sunday, February 14th is Daniel Farber. Daniel is a PhD student in Botany and Plant Pathology here are Oregon State University, where he studies the disperal of a fungus called Puccinia striiformis triticina that is the causal agent for the disease Wheat Strip Rust. Dispersal from a single infection of this fungus can spread the disease over a single generation, and spores can travel through the air and remain viable up to 500 kilometers away from the source of infection!

Researchers in the past have looked at these large scale patterns of spread, but they may have missed the trees for the forest, since no one has done detailed studies of how such a process occurs at the level of a single spore. By examining the shape of dispersal gradients in local, isolated infections, Daniel hopes to understand the root of this phenomena by asking how airborne infection dispersal occur from one leaf to another, at the smallest observable level. Using modelling to predict disperal patterns, Daniel hopes that this deeper understanding might lead to a more sustainable agricultural practice that is less dependent on excessive fungicide use, and that the understanding of how to model airborne pathogen spread in this way might also be applied to human health issues ranging from bird flu to the current Zika virus epidemic.

To learn more about Daniel and his work, tune in Sunday night at 7PM PST or stream the show live!

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About Matt McConnell

Matt McConnell is from Midland, Michigan and received his undergraduate BS in Psychology and Philosophy at Central Michigan University. After graduating he spent several years in North Carolina. Most of this was at UNC working as a medical research lab assistant using mice as model organisms, but some of his work also involved cognitive research with Rhesus Macaques at a Duke University field site in Puerto Rico. Matt currently live in Corvallis, OR where he attends OSU as a graduate student in the History of Science master's program. He is taking Science Education as a related minor, with an emphasis in Free Choice Learning. His interests in History of Science and Science Education meet on the practice of Science Communication. Matt is currently co-host of the weekly radio show 'Inspiration Dissemination', in which graduate students discuss their personal journeys. Inspiration Dissemination is open to all graduate students and airs every Sunday evening at 7pm on 88.7 FM, KBVR Corvallis.