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Plant Breeding, Genetics, & Genomics

Disease Resistance in Alfalfa

Researchers at the University of Kentucky, supported by a NIFA National Research Initiative grant, cloned the gene RCT1, a host disease resistance gene in M. truncatula that enables alfalfa to fight multiple races of a fungal pathogen that causes anthrancnose disease. RCT1 provides a novel resource to develop anthracnose-resistant alfalfa cultivars and contributes to our understanding of host resistance against this fungal pathogen.

Alfalfa is economically the most important forage legume worldwide.  A recurrent challenge to alfalfa production is the significant yield loss caused by diseases. Although knowledge of molecular mechanisms underlying host resistance to disease facilitates the genetic improvement of alfalfa, the acquisition of such knowledge is hampered by the fact that alfalfa is a tetraploid (contains four sets of chromosomes in its genome) and its outcrossing nature.  However, alfalfa is in the same genus as the reference legume Medicago truncatula, which is very amenable to genetic improvement. This provides an opportunity to use M. truncatula as a "surrogate" to clone the counterparts of agronomically important genes in alfalfa. In particular, the high degree of gene sequence identity and the remarkably conserved genome structure and function between the two species allow M. truncatula genes to be used directly in alfalfa improvement.

The study was supported the by NRI Plant Genome and Plant Biology: Genome and Regulation Programs. The report was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Last Updated: 09/15/2008