Areas of Interest
The Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology balances the need of a land-grant institution to solve immediate agricultural problems and investigate basic biologic principles. The department encompasses projects that attack applied problems like plant disease control with both classical and modern approaches.
In recent years the department, on its own and through collaboration with other Texas A&M departments, has developed outstanding research programs in fungal and bacterial molecular biology, population genetics, and plant-microbe interactions. Current research demonstrates the diversity of departmental programs.
For example, the issue of food and feed safety relative to mycotoxin contamination is of central importance in Texas agriculture. Departmental programs focus on the regulation of mycotoxin biosynthesis, with the goal of reducing or eliminating mycotoxins in food and feed crops.
Other research programs involve the study of biocontrol agents, such as determining the molecular mechanisms by which a myco-parasitic virus controls the fungal plant pathogen Cryphonectria parasitica, and developing improved biocontrol agents through genetic engineering of Gliocladium spp.
Major efforts by several faculty focus on the phylogeny and population biology of fungal and bacterial plant pathogens. These studies have led to a better understanding of the factors affecting coevolution of pathogenic microorganisms and their host plants and have provided molecular markers for distinguishing closely related pathogens.
Other research programs focus on plant-microbe interactions, including the cloning and characterization of genes important for virulence or avirulence in bacterial and fungal pathogens, and plant genes whose expression is triggered specifically by pathogenic or symbiotic microorganisms. Researchers within the department are cloning and studying the regulation of genes involved in sporulation, virulence, extracellular enzyme production, and disease resistance.
More applied research focuses on methods for control of plant disease. Root rot caused by Phymatotrichopsis omnivora continues to be a serious problem on cotton and other crops; thus, investigations continue on ecology and chemical control of this important pathogen. Research in forest pathology examines the epidemiology, etiology, and control of important tree diseases, particularly oak wilt caused by Ceratocystis fagacearum. Extension plant pathologists have responsibility for greenhouse, ornamental, and nursery crops; fruits and vegetables; and field crops such as rice, corn, wheat, sorghum, peanuts, soybean, and cotton.
The department is continually seeking to enhance the quality of education available to graduate students. The Program for the Biology of Filamentous Fungi (PBOFF) provides a mechanism for communication and collaboration among individuals interested in fungi and has provided a foundation for one of the premier fungal molecular biology groups in the country.
The Crop Biotechnology Center (CBC) promotes interaction between faculty, staff, and graduate students with an interest in crop improvement. The CBC sponsors graduate fellowships and provides facilities and personnel for genome mapping, plant transformation, tissue culture, and self-contained greenhouse work.