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Hassan Melouk and Kelly Chenault display a Sclerotinia-resistant peanut plant--uprooted and loaded with healthy peanuts. Link to photo information
Plant pathologist Hassan Melouk and peanut breeder Kelly Chenault display a peanut plant they developed that has increased resistance to Sclerotinia blight. Click the image for more information about it.

New Initiative May Lead to Better Peanuts

By Luis Pons
April 10, 2006

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists in Stillwater, Okla., are an integral part of a new initiative to improve the peanut.

The researchers, with ARS’ Wheat, Peanut and Other Field Crops Research Unit, are joining the Oklahoma Peanut Commission and state research and extension professionals in a new, wide-ranging program to produce disease-resistant plants with tasty, fresh and healthful peanuts for consumers.

Plant pathologist Hassan Melouk and biologist Kelly Chenault lead the ARS team. According to their research leader, Dave Porter, the new program fortifies and expands the ARS unit's efforts to enhance, through breeding, peanut plants' genetic diversity, and to develop superior peanut products.

The new initiative, which was started in response to recent declines in peanut production in southern Plains states, can help growers meet an increasing demand for peanuts through economical, sustainable and environmentally compatible management strategies, as well as spur improved crop production that allows for less pesticide use and greater product value, quality and safety, according to Porter.

This united effort will benefit from the continuation of Melouk's work on combining traits of peanut plants that resist diseases with those that boost oleic acid content. Studies have shown that oleic acid—which staves off deterioration and gives peanut products longer shelf life—may promote a lower risk of coronary heart disease.

Melouk is working with peanut lines from Bolivia and Ecuador that resist Sclerotinia blight and may be a boon to breeding in the United States. His previous work with Oklahoma State and Texas A&M universities generated cultivars that resist the blight. Some of the cultivars also produce oil with high oleic acid content.

The new initiative will also benefit from Chenault’s breakthroughs on the genetic front with disease-resistant peanut plants. Her goal is to someday integrate disease-resistance genes into susceptible peanut varieties.

Read more about the research in the April issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.