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Sept. 1, 2017
By Fred MillerU of A System Division of Agriculture Fast Facts:
(With PHOTO — Spinach research07:
Research associate Dr. Chunda Feng, right, shows spinach plants in a disease resistance
study to project leaders Dr. Ainong Shi, left, and Dr. Jim Correll.
Download Word version
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — The USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture awarded
a $2.45 million research grant to University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture
scientists working to develop disease resistance in spinach.
The grant, totaling $2,447,432, was awarded through the USDA’s Specialty Crop Research
Initiative, authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill.
It funds an ongoing project by Division of Agriculture researchers Ainong Shi and
James Correll, who are leading a multi-state and multi-agency collaboration to meet
growing consumer demand for spinach by developing new, disease-resistant varieties.
Shi, vegetable breeder and assistant professor of horticulture, and Correll, professor
of plant pathology, are focusing their work on three important diseases that affect
U.S. spinach production — downy mildew, white rust and Fusarium wilt.
“The U.S. is the second largest producer of spinach and there has been a dramatic
increase in spinach production as a result of higher consumption,” Shi said. “In order
to keep up with demand, growers require continuous development of improved and adapted
spinach varieties to overcome diseases and insect pests.”
Correll describes agricultural plant breeding as a biological arms race. “The first,
best line of defense against plant diseases is resistance,” he said.
Plant breeders continually develop crop varieties that have improved disease resistance,
Correll said. But new races of the pathogens emerge and eventually find ways to overcome
the resistance. So, plant breeders develop a new crop variety with improved resistance,
and the arms race continues.
Shi and Correll have teamed up to bring new tools to the spinach breeding arena. They
began with a three-year research program to identify resistance to downy mildew, the
most yield-limiting disease in spinach in the U.S. That project was funded by a $725,552
USDA Specialty Crop Multistate Program grant administered through the Arkansas Agriculture
The new grant allows them to broaden their investigation to include resistance to
white rust and Fusarium wilt and to apply molecular breeding tools to develop improved varieties.
Correll’s team brings decades of research on downy mildew to the partnership. They
have had numerous USDA grants to examine how these pathogens attacks spinach throughout
Shi brings a host of genetic tools and knowledge to the table.
“We are developing new strategies for breeding spinach varieties with durable resistance
to ensure long-term disease control,” Shi said.
Shi’s strategy is three-pronged. First, he is identifying quantitative gene loci —
the locations of particular genes in DNA — that control disease resistance.
Marker-Assisted Selection uses genetic markers to identify disease resistant breeding
lines, Shi said, and to determine if resistance has been transferred by conventional
Breeding efforts will focus on gene pyramiding, or gene stacking, Shi said. By this
strategy, multiple genes for disease resistance will be bred into improved spinach
varieties. The result would be plants with multiple means of defense against disease-causing
Shi said the goal of the collaborative research is to use these advanced genetic tools
to more efficiently develop improved spinach varieties through conventional breeding
The NIFA grant is one of 12 awarded nationwide for science-based solutions and new
technology for the specialty crop industry.
“Specialty crops generally fetch high value for the farmers, but require more intensive
farming than conventional crops, such as wheat or corn,” NIFA director Sonny Ramaswamy
said in a USDA announcement. “NIFA investments in specialty crop research provide
high-tech solutions to the needs of farmers and processors. They foster a competitive
U.S. industry that offers abundant, nutritious, safe, and affordable food sources.”
To learn more about our research, visit www.aaes.uark.edu. About the Division of AgricultueThe University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen
agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption
of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative
Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work
within the nation’s historic land grant education system.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension
and Research programs to all eligible persons without regard to race, color, sex,
gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital
or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and
is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.
# # #
By Mary HightowerThe Cooperative Extension ServiceU of A System Division of Agriculture
Media Contact: Mary HightowerDir. of Communication ServicesU of A Division of AgricultureCooperative Extension Service(501) firstname.lastname@example.org