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US (CA): Researchers get $5 million to combat downy mildew in lettuce

Researchers at the University of California, Davis, will use the genomics of lettuce to combat a pathogen that causes losses in the $3 billion industry each year.

The Foundation of Food and Agriculture Research, or FFAR, awarded Richard Michelmore, professor and director of the UC Davis Genome Center, the first research grant through the Crops of the Future Collaborative.

UC Davis will receive $2.5 million from FFAR and matching funds from the Crops of the Future Leafy Greens Participants for a total of $5 million.

Downy mildew on lettuce leaf. (UC Regents)

The award will allow researchers to exploit genomics approaches to combat downy mildew, which is the most economically important pathogen infecting lettuce. The highly variable pathogen can cause losses in the field and after harvest. 

“Downy mildew threatens production wherever the lettuce crop is grown, requiring expensive chemical control measures and resulting in loss of quality for consumers,” said Michelmore.  

The project will enable rational deployment of new resistance genes resulting in more durable disease resistance and less use of control chemicals. The research will benefit both conventional and organic farmers by reducing crop losses and improving profitability. It also will help reduce food waste and provide consumers food that has been produced using fewer chemicals.

“FFAR’s investment will increase our knowledge of plant resistance and pathogen variability leading to more efficient, knowledge-driven breeding of lettuce cultivars with more durable resistance to downy mildew,” said Michelmore.  

The matching funds are provided by a multinational consortium of 14 large and small breeding and biotechnology companies in order to address significant problems in lettuce production. 

“This award is an example of how public-private partnerships effectively leverage funding for research that will provide benefit to farmers, producers, and consumers,” said Sally Rockey, executive director of FFAR. “This consortium approach provides smaller companies an exceptional opportunity to combine their R&D resources with larger multinationals to address shared pre-competitive issues important to the lettuce industry.”

Crops of the Future Leafy Greens Participants include: BASF Vegetable Seeds, Bejo Zaden B.V., Benson Hill Biosytems, Inc., Enza Zaden Research and Development, B.V., Gautier Semences, Keygene, N.V., Progeny Advanced Genetics Inc., Ramiro Arnedo S.A., Rijk Zwaan Zaadteelt en Zaadhandel B.V., Sakata Seed Corporation, Syngenta Crop Protection AG, Takii and Company Ltd., Tanimura & Antle Value Added LLC., and Vilmorin S.A.

Source: UC Davis (Amy Quinton)

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