Bingyu Zhao has received a $1 million, five-year Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award for his research on host-plant resistance to control plant disease. This recognition is NSF’s most pretigious award for creative junior faculty who are considered to be future leaders in their academic fields.
Dr. Zhao has identified a disease resistance gene in corn called Rxo1. This gene can recognize a bacterial protein (AvrRxo1) and stop the bacteria frominvading the plant cells, preventing infection. Not only can the Rxo1 gene protect corn plants from disease, it still functions when it is transferred to tobacco plants, which are very different taxonomically to corn. This is exciting because genes typically loose their functionality when they are transferred to different plant families. Dr. Zhao hopes to discover why Rxo1 has this ability and show breeders how to transfer the disease resistance gene from corn to other economic crops. (graphic)
Plant diseases that the Rxo1 gene can defend against include rice bacterial leaf streak, sorghum leaf streak, tomato bacterial leaf spot, and watermelon fruit blotch diseases. This is because all of the bacterial pathogens of these diseases carry the bacterial protein AvrRxo1.
This grant also provides training for undergraduate and graduate students and supports workshops at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research in Danville, VA to attract minority high-school students to careers in plant biology.