U.S. Sunflowers Could "Get a Lift" from Down Under
Suszkiw May 13, 2008
Improved disease resistance could be in store for tomorrow's sunflower
hybrids, thanks to plants that Agricultural
Research Service (ARS) scientists collected in Australia last year and are
now evaluating in greenhouse trials in Fargo, N.D.
ARS plant pathologist
Gulya and botanist
Seiler traveled to Australia in early 2007 in hopes of identifying new
genes that could be incorporated into American sunflower hybrids for improved
resistance to fungal diseases including downy mildew, rust and
Sclerotinia stalk rot.
Gulya considers stalk rot enough of an economic threat to the U.S.
sunflower crop that incorporating even partial resistance from the Aussie
plants would be worthwhile. He and Seiler, who are both in the ARS
Research Unit at Fargo, made the trip with funding from the ARS
Office. With the assistance of a team from the
of Primary Industries and Fisheries (DPIF) in Queensland, Australia, Gulya
and Seiler collected 59 populations of the wild sunflower species Helianthus
annuus and H. debilis.
In the fall of 2007, they began greenhouse trials to evaluate the
plants' fungal disease resistance, as well as to analyze their seed oil content
and fatty acid composition. A University of
British Columbia collaborator will compare the plants' genetic profiles to
those of American wild sunflowers. This could reveal whether the Aussie
sunflowers have undergone significant genetic changes since arriving in the
Land Down Under more than 100 years ago from America.
Gulya and Seiler estimate their sunflower expedition took them on a
journey of more than 6,200 miles through Western Australia, South Australia,
New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland. On average, they and the DPIF team
gathered 6,000 sunflower seeds per collection. This included plants from yards,
hedgerows, municipal garbage dumps and other sites.
more about the research in the May/June 2008 issue of Agricultural
ARS is the U.S.
Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.