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Anna Locke

Department of Crop and Soil Sciences

USDA, Assistant Professor

2124 Plant Sciences Building 2124

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Grants

Date: 02/17/20 - 6/30/23
Amount: $556,249.00
Funding Agencies: Game-Changing Research Incentive Program for Plant Sciences (GRIP4PSI)

More than a third of crop yields are currently lost due to abiotic and biotic stressors such as drought, pests, and disease. These stressors are expected to worsen in a warmer, drier future, resulting in crop yields further declining ~25%; however, breeding is only expected to rescue 7-15% of that loss [1]. The plant microbiome is a new avenue of plant management that may help fill this gap. All plants have fungi living inside their leaves (“foliar fungal endophytes”). This is an ancient and intimate relationship in which the fungi affect plant physiology, biotic and abiotic stress tolerance, and productivity. For example, some foliar fungi prevent or delay onset of major yield-limiting diseases caused by pathogens such as Fusarium head blight [2]. Foliar endophytes also reduce plant water loss by up to half and delay wilting by several weeks [3, 4]. Endophyte effects on plants occur via diverse genes and metabolites, including genes involved in stress responses and plant defense [5]. Genes and metabolites also predict how interactions in fungal consortia affect host stress responses, which is important for developing field inoculations [6]. Because newly emergent leaves lack fungi, endophytes are also an attractive target for manipulation (particularly compared to soils, where competition with the existing microbial community inhibits microbial additives). We propose to address the role of endophytic “mycobiomes” in stress tolerance of five North Carolina food, fiber, and fuel crops (corn, hemp, soybean, switchgrass, wheat), and to develop tools that can push this field beyond its current limits. Our major objectives (Fig. 1) are to: 1. Identify key microbiome scales to optimally manage endophytes 2. Determine fungal mechanisms via greenhouse tests, modeling, and genetic engineering 3. Build tools for field detection of endophytes 4. Understand the regulatory environment and engage diverse stakeholders Results of these objectives will allow us to make significant progress in both understanding the basic biology of plant-fungal interactions and managing those interactions in real-world settings. Our extension efforts will also bring these ideas to the broader community. Finally, we will also be well positioned to pursue several future research endeavors supported by federal granting agencies.

Date: 02/01/21 - 1/31/23
Amount: $50,000.00
Funding Agencies: NC Soybean Producers Association, Inc.

North Carolina soybeans are vulnerable to wet weather and flooding, especially in the Northeastern part of the state, where elevation is low and water tables are high. Excess water, whether it saturates the soil for long periods of time or stands deep enough to partially cover some leaves, will slow growth and reduce yields. Despite the threat that excess water poses for North Carolina, the search for NC-adapted flood tolerant soybean varieties began only 2016, through a North Carolina Soybean Producers Association (NCSPA)- and United Soybean Board(USB)-funded project. In that research, flood tolerant soybeans from the Delta and Mid-South regions were evaluated under flooding conditions at the Tidewater Research Station at Plymouth, NC. The 2017 crop is still in the field at Plymouth, but preliminary indications are that some of the Delta soybean types have flood tolerant properties. The goal of this proposal is to build on this early success and start the process of developing flood tolerant soybean varieties specifically for North Carolina farmers. The premise of this work is that we will use desirable soy materials from the Delta as parents, but we must breed them with NC varieties and then evaluate progeny under NC conditions to get the local adaptation required for on farm success. This research project will achieve the goal of jump starting a soybean breeding program for flood tolerance through four objectives. Objective 1 will identify soybeans with tolerance to short-term (~one week) standing water before flowering. Objective 2 will identify soybeans with tolerance to long-term soil saturation, or waterlogging. Objective 3 will use the outcomes of Objectives 1 and 2 to establish a breeding program for North Carolina flood tolerant soybean. Objective 4 will begin to uncover the phyioslogical basis of flood tolerance, which will aid breeders in identifying and selecting the best germplasm. All experiments will be carried out at the Tidewater Research Station. Partial submergence and waterlogging will be created by building berms around experimental fields and pumping in the appropriate amount of water from the adjacent irrigation canals. Ultimately, this project will directly impact the soybean industry by generating flood tolerant soybean varieties specifically for North Carolina soybean farmers.

Date: 02/01/20 - 1/31/23
Amount: $15,000.00
Funding Agencies: NC Soybean Producers Association, Inc.

The overarching goal of this project is to increase soybean protein production in non-optimal environmental conditions. Soybean is grown on over 120 million ha worldwide, from which over 179 billion kg of protein-rich soybean meal per year is produced for livestock feed (FAO). Demand for soybean protein is increasing rapidly as the global population approaches 9 billion and more people can afford diversified diets that include meat. To meet this growing nutritional demand and to keep food prices stable, soybean protein production needs to be resilient to unpredictable growing-season weather, especially temperature stress. Temperature stressed soybean plants show low germination rates, growth delay, and reduced photosynthesis, yield, and seed protein production. Temperature stress-tolerant crops are difficult to develop through conventional breeding, due to the logistical difficulty of screening large numbers of plants for temperature stress response at critical developmental stages, which makes strategies such as genome-wide association studies (GWAS) and quantitative trait loci (QTL) mapping impractical or impossible. Furthermore, many temperature stress responses are regulated post-translationally and are thus difficult to detect with conventional genetic markers. To improve crop temperature stress tolerance, novel strategies are needed to identify key temperatures stress regulators and develop new biomarkers for use in crop breeding. This multidisciplinary team will use state-of-the-art phosphoproteomics analysis, genotypic data, and physiological information together with machine learning to link key post-translational regulators with the desired physiological and agronomic outcomes, i.e. stable germination and increased yield and protein production during temperature stress. These key post-translational, phosphoprotein regulators can be used in breeding programs as novel biomarkers, or phosphomarkers, to select genotypes that are primed for temperature stress tolerance.

Date: 02/01/18 - 7/31/21
Amount: $31,500.00
Funding Agencies: NC Soybean Producers Association, Inc.

Soybean seed composition is increasingly a becoming a focus for marketing and new variety development. However, seed composition typically changes under environmental stress. Seed protein content is usually limited by nitrogen availability and transport into the growing seed, and plant nitrogen metabolism is tightly linked with water availability. Thus, plant nitrogen use may be a key connection between drought tolerance in both yield and seed composition. This project will build on previous NCSPA-funded research by investigating plant nitrogen content under favorable (irrigated) conditions and drought (non-irrigated) conditions in a fast-draining soil, and relating this to seed yield stability and seed composition stability in drought. Measuring how plant nitrogen content changes during drought will indicate if drought-induced changes in seed composition are related to differences in nitrogen acquisition by the plant (i.e., nitrate assimilation or nitrogen fixation) or nitrogen relocation from leaves and stems into the growing seed. This will help identify physiological and genetic targets for soybean breeders to develop varieties that maintain their seed composition traits during drought.

Date: 02/01/18 - 5/31/21
Amount: $90,000.00
Funding Agencies: NC Soybean Producers Association, Inc.

North Carolina soybeans are vulnerable to wet weather and flooding, especially in the Northeastern part of the state, where elevation is low and water tables are high. Excess water, whether it saturates the soil for long periods of time or stands deep enough to partially cover some leaves, will slow growth and reduce yields. Despite the threat that excess water poses for North Carolina, the search for NC-adapted flood tolerant soybean varieties began only 2016, through a North Carolina Soybean Producers Association (NCSPA)- and United Soybean Board(USB)-funded project. In that research, flood tolerant soybeans from the Delta and Mid-South regions were evaluated under flooding conditions at the Tidewater Research Station at Plymouth, NC. The 2017 crop is still in the field at Plymouth, but preliminary indications are that some of the Delta soybean types have flood tolerant properties. The goal of this proposal is to build on this early success and start the process of developing flood tolerant soybean varieties specifically for North Carolina farmers. The premise of this work is that we will use desirable soy materials from the Delta as parents, but we must breed them with NC varieties and then evaluate progeny under NC conditions to get the local adaptation required for on farm success. This research project will achieve the goal of jump starting a soybean breeding program for flood tolerance through four objectives. Objective 1 will identify soybeans with tolerance to short-term (~one week) standing water before flowering. Objective 2 will identify soybeans with tolerance to long-term soil saturation, or waterlogging. Objective 3 will use the outcomes of Objectives 1 and 2 to establish a breeding program for North Carolina flood tolerant soybean. Objective 4 will begin to uncover the phyioslogical basis of flood tolerance, which will aid breeders in identifying and selecting the best germplasm. All experiments will be carried out at the Tidewater Research Station. Partial submergence and waterlogging will be created by building berms around experimental fields and pumping in the appropriate amount of water from the adjacent irrigation canals. Ultimately, this project will directly impact the soybean industry by generating flood tolerant soybean varieties specifically for North Carolina soybean farmers.


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