The Storkan Foundation, in honor of Richard Storkan - former President of TriCal, Inc. was founded in 1987 to encourage graduate research on soil-borne diseases. The name was later changed to The Storkan-Hanes-McCaslin Research Foundation in honor of the three founding members of TriCal: aforementioned Storkan, Jerry Hanes, and Bob McCaslin. The Foundation was created to further the work of the three founders who were always willing to provide time, money, fumigants, and equipment to further research in soil diseases.
A major goal of the foundation today is to encourage research by offering financial assistance to graduate and post-graduate students who have demonstrated interest in soil-borne diseases and their control. The Foundation grants awards on a yearly basis. As of 2016 , the Foundation has awarded a total of $ 495,500 to 78 students across the United States. In addition to the cash awards, the Foundation supplies airfare each year for the newly elected Fellows of the Storkan-Hanes-McCaslin Foundation, to attend the annual American Phytopathological Society (APS) meeting.
Stevia is an herbaceous perennial under investigation as a new crop in NC. The emphasis of our lab has been to assess stevia’s potential as a viable crop in NC from a disease management perspective. Our work focuses on identifying pathogens of concern, understanding pathogen biology, developing management strategies, and developing approaches to enhance overwintering survival.
One of the key research areas of our lab is to develop a comprehensive Integrated Pest Management strategy for managing bacterial wilt disease of tomato caused by Ralstonia solancaerum. Bacterial wilt of tomato is a major problem for tomato growers worldwide and can cause >80% yield loss under disease conducive conditions. Currently, in our lab, we are working on ways to improve the tomato defense response to R. solanacearum in open field conditions. In our research, we demonstrated that transgenic expression of EFR gene, a pattern recognition receptor (PRR), derived from Arabidopsis thaliana (belonging to Brassicaceae family) into tomato plant (belonging to Solanaceae family) provided effective field level control of bacterial wilt disease and increased total yield (>100%). EFR is a receptor protein that recognizes a PAMP called EF-tu (an elongation factor Tu) widely conserved across bacteria. Engineering broad specturm EFR based resistance in tomato may protect tomato against wide genera of phytopathogenic bacteria in open field conditions.
My research interest is to improve management practices of Fusarium wilt of lettuce, caused by Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. lactucae. Delaying planting dates as little as one week (from August to September) has been found to significantly lower severity of Fusarium wilt of lettuce. We will further investigate the effect of planting date by testing for a critical period of growth where exposing lettuce to higher temperatures enhances severity of Fusarium wilt. With appropriate choice of planting date, we also anticipate that susceptible lettuce will tolerate Fusarium wilt when grown in a field with low disease pressure.
Cereal crops such as maize, rye and wheat can constitutively produce antimicrobial lactam-containing chemicals which inhibit many plant pathogens. However, previous work in our lab has shown that F. verticillioides can tolerate these defense chemicals by hydrolyzing them into non-toxic metabolites via a “β-lactamase”. Comparison of related fungi from relatively axenic environments versus soil-borne species indicates that soil inhabitants are dramatically enriched in lactamases. My research project is to characterize their functions, using F. verticillioides as paradigm. We are trying to address their important roles in the degradation of disadvantageous xenobiotics associated with niche competition.
TriCal is a strong supporter of agriculture. We are involved in a number of ventures that promote and sustain a healthy, plentiful food supply.
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