A Comprehensive Analysis of Rust Disease Resistance in the Bioenergy Plant Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.)
Frazier, Taylor Price
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Switchgrass is a C4 perennial grass that is currently being developed for use as a second generation lignocellulosic biofuel crop. For switchgrass to be fully utilized as a bioenergy crop, large-scale plantings of elite switchgrass germplasm, possibly in monoculture, are likely to occur. This practice may increase the selection pressure on plant pathogens, such as switchgrass rust, which could result in devastating disease epidemics. The identification and deployment of quantitative trait loci (QTLs) and major plant disease resistance genes (R) in switchgrass breeding programs could offer broad spectrum and durable disease resistance in commercial switchgrass cultivars. 'Alamo', a lowland cultivar, is generally resistant to switchgrass rust whereas 'Dacotah', an upland cultivar, is highly susceptible. I hypothesized that major R genes and/or QTLs were contributing to the differences in disease phenotypes of these two cultivars. In this dissertation, bioinformatics and molecular biology approaches were employed to dissect the genetic mechanisms underlying switchgrass rust disease resistance. Novel pseudo-F2 mapping populations were created from a cross derived from 'Alamo' and 'Dacotah'. RNA-sequencing of the pseudo-F2 progenies of 'Alamo' x 'Dacotah' was used to construct a genetic linkage map and to identify potential QTLs correlating with disease resistance. In addition, a homology-based computational method was used to identify 1,011 potential NB-LRR R genes in the switchgrass genome (v 1.1). These potential R genes were characterized for polymorphism and expression differences between 'Alamo' and 'Dacotah'. Moreover, I found that some NB-LRR genes are developmentally regulated in switchgrass. One of the major objectives of switchgrass breeding programs is to develop cultivars with improved feedstock quality; however, changes in the components of the plant cell wall may affect disease resistance. I hypothesized that genetically modified switchgrass plants with altered cell wall components will respond differently than the wild-type to switchgrass rust. Transgenic switchgrass plants overexpressing AtSHN3, a transcription factor with known functions in epicuticular wax accumulation and cell wall deposition, were created. I found that AtSHN3-overexpressing transgenic switchgrass lines were more susceptible than wild-type plants in their response to switchgrass rust. Overall, the results of this dissertation provide a platform for elucidating the molecular mechanisms underlying resistance of switchgrass to switchgrass rust. These findings will help breeders create switchgrass cultivars with improved disease resistance, and will ultimately allow switchgrass to be used for sustainable biomass production.
- Doctoral Dissertations