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Reducing Pathogens

Reducing Pathogen Damage in Biofuel Plantations Using Symbionts

Goals

Plant disease is the greatest biological threat to poplar feedstock production. The traditional method of managing disease by selectively breeding disease-resistant plants has not kept pace with rapidly evolving pathogens.

Our research evaluates a novel strategy for controlling disease in poplars using naturally occurring leaf endophytes—fungi that live within plants without causing disease—to enhance resistance to pathogens.

Impact

Controlling disease with naturally occurring plant symbionts could reduce both the economic and environmental costs of hybrid poplar feedstock production.

Status

We have isolated hundreds of endophytes from western black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa) growing in the wild. Our greenhouse and field experiments have demonstrated that inoculation with particular endophytes increases Populus resistance to pathogens. Our future efforts will evaluate the suitability of endophytes for industrial application.

Two women spray endophytes on poplar trees kept under plastic bags.
Researchers are inoculating poplars with endophytes.
Washington State University