Foundational and translational research opportunities to improve plant health.
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This whitepaper reports the deliberations of a workshop focused on biotic challenges to plant health held in Washington, D.C. in September 2016. Ensuring health of food plants is critical to maintaining the quality and productivity of crops and for sustenance of the rapidly growing human population. There is a close linkage between food security and societal stability; however, global food security is threatened by the vulnerability of our agricultural systems to numerous pests, pathogens, weeds, and environmental stresses. These threats are aggravated by climate change, the globalization of agriculture, and an over-reliance on non-sustainable inputs. New analytical and computational technologies are providing unprecedented resolution at a variety of molecular, cellular, organismal, and population scales for crop plants as well as pathogens, pests, beneficial microbes, and weeds. It is now possible to both characterize useful or deleterious variation as well as precisely manipulate it. Data-driven, informed decisions based on knowledge of the variation of biotic challenges and of natural and synthetic variation in crop plants will enable deployment of durable interventions throughout the world. These should be integral, dynamic components of agricultural strategies for sustainable agriculture. Specific findings: ? Genetic improvement of crops is the most reliable, least expensive management strategy when suitable genetic variation is available. Nonetheless, some interventions have not proved durable due to the evolution and global dispersal of virulent pathogens and pests as well as herbicide-resistant weeds. ? Additional strategies are becoming essential as multiple fungicides, nematicides, and herbicides become ineffective due to the evolution of resistance and/or are phased out due to registration withdrawals. ? Strategies are needed that maximize the evolutionary hurdles for pathogens, pests, and weeds to overcome control measures. Interventions need to evolve as fast as the biotic challenges. Moreover, deployments of interventions must be driven by knowledge of the evolutionary capacity of the biotic challenge. ? Considerable knowledge exists but more research into the mechanisms of plant immunity and other forms of resistance is needed as the foundation for translational applications. ? Several new technologies are increasing foundational knowledge and providing numerous opportunities for generating crops with durable resistance to pests and diseases as well as control of weeds and reduction of the environmental impact of agriculture. ? There are multiple strategies for counteracting biotic challenges involving canonical and non-canonical disease resistance genes, genes encoding susceptibility factors, small RNAs, or immunomodulators. Simultaneous deployment of disease resistance strategies with different modes of action, as well as the judicious use of fungicides, will enhance durability of control measures. ? Pathogen effectors provide tools for discovering resistance genes and susceptibility factors as well as for dissecting/manipulating plant biology and breeding plants for durable disease resistance. ? There are several, as yet little exploited, opportunities for leveraging beneficial interactions among plants, microbes, insects and other organisms in the phytobiome to enhance plant health and productivity as well as breeding plants to promote beneficial phytobiome communities. ? Global monitoring of plant health is feasible and desirable in order to anticipate and counter threats. ? Climate change increases the need for continual global monitoring of pathogens, pests, and weeds and adjusting of control strategies. ? There are numerous current and future opportunities for knowledge exchange and partnerships between developed and developing countries to foster improved local and global food security. ? Both genetically modified (GM) and non-GM strategies are needed to maximize plant health and food security. ? Significant, sustained financial support is required if the beneficial impacts of foundational and translational research on global food security are to be realized. The needs, opportunities, approaches, and deliverables for addressing biotic challenges to plant health are detailed in Table 1. These can be broadly classified as assessing variation, characterizing it in detail at a variety of scales, and deploying beneficial interventions. Immediate investments in global monitoring of pathogens/pests and in situ and ex-situ determination of what natural variation exists in crop plants for countering challenges and threats should be a high priority. Detailed investigations of the molecular basis of the various types of plant resistance and of the basis of pathogen/pest virulence are critical for providing the foundation for novel intervention strategies; these will be facilitated by development of high resolution structural and functional analytical techniques. Optimization of protocols for delivery of reagents for allele replacement and gene insertions into diverse major and minor crop plants should be a high priority. Monitoring and deployment should be a global endeavor involving multinational partnerships and knowledge exchanges in order to ensure that interventions are locally relevant and globally durable.
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