Brazil: Tracking wild peanut genes to improve crop resilience
Published Sep 15, 2021
A decade ago, University of Georgia plant scientists David and Soraya Bertioli were living and working in Brazil when they began to wonder about peanut plants they encountered in different corners of the world with an astounding ability to withstand fungal diseases without the use of fungicides. The Bertiolis wondered if these different plants might all have something in common. Did they owe their natural resistance to a single genetic source?
Plant breeders around the globe have worked for decades to create peanut varieties that can fight off fungal diseases, and several have been successful. Though the paperwork didn't document it, the Bertiolis suspected that a humble weed from Bolivia was the source of all that disease resistance, and they set out to investigate their theory.This is a story about globe-trotting genes. The genes traveled as plant breeders traded seed, but also wound up in peanut fields as pollen stuck to bees, as single seeds accidentally slipped into a bag of another variety, or as labeling errors swapped the providence of seeds of different sources. Again and again, the wild genes made such a show of strength with their fungal resistance that breeders selected them and made new crosses and varieties. The genes swept from the United States to India, to Africa, to Brazil, to China and Oceanea and back again.As the improved genetic varieties were adopted, subsistence farmers in Africa raved about the ...