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Lecture Series will continue the theme of sustainability

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The second presentation in our 2010 Dean’s Lecture Series continues the theme of sustainability. Dr. Steven Ralph, in the Department of Biology at the University of North Dakota will discuss his current research on Wednesday 10 March at 12 noon in the Lecture Bowl. Dr Ralph’s is identifying pest-resistant genes in planted forest trees with a view to improving the productivity of these forests and preventing devastation by pest infestations.

Genomic Approaches to Identify Insect Resistance Genes in Poplar Trees

Dr. Steven Ralph, Department of Biology

Concurrent with the ever increasing demand for wood-based products, there is an obvious need to conserve forest ecosystems for their ecological value. Recent research suggests that these potentially competing objectives can be achieved by increasing or tailoring the productivity of planted forests through the use of biotechnology. Unfortunately, this strategy could be hindered by forest insect pests that pose a challenge to the sustainability of planted forests. While advancing genetic improvement or domestication of tree species for productivity in plantation forestry, it is critical that we also identify tree genes controlling resistance and/or tolerance mechanisms against insect pests. In this regard, poplar (Populus spp.) has emerged as the model angiosperm tree to investigate forest tree-insect interactions. In recent years a number of studies have harnessed the power of genomics to generate extensive inventories of genes that are involved in the defense response of poplar following insect attack.

However, despite these advances, the challenge remains to link insect feeding-induced changes in gene expression with altered resistance or tolerance to insect attack.  Does induced expression of individual genes directly contribute to insect resistance or is induced expression simply correlated with the timing of the defense response?  We are addressing this question using a forward genetics approach that involves screening activation tagged poplar populations for resistance to defoliating insects, followed by molecular, biochemical and genomic analysis of candidate insect resistance genes.  Identification of these genes will advance fundamental knowledge on perennial plant defense mechanisms and will provide critical targets to incorporate into tree breeding programs to engineer superior trees for the forest industry.

Dr. Steven Ralph is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology at the University of North Dakota. He has published more than 35 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters, and has contributed to over 110 abstracts and conference presentations. For more information about Dr. Ralph’s academic interests and research laboratory, visit his web site.

To see the schedule of event for the Scholarly Forum, visit www.graduateschool.und.edu


Written by School of Graduate Studies

February 24, 2010 at 7:09 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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