(Oct. 30, 2017) -- Garry Sunter, chair of the UTSA Department of Biology, has received an award worth up to $1 million over four years to develop a technology that enlists insects to deliver genetic therapies that improve the health of vulnerable, mature plants. Sunter is part of a Pennsylvania State University-led team supporting the Defense Advance Research Project Agency’s Insect Allies program.
“Our goal is to develop a rapid response to various conditions that can impact plant productivity, such as drought, disease and environmental stress,” said Sunter. “Many of the traditional responses used to protect plants are either time-intensive or destructive. To make a difference for mature plants facing rapidly emerging threats, we have to come up with a defense that works quickly.”
Different plants already have a range of genes that give them natural resistance to harsh conditions and disease. Sunter is working to transfer relevant genes into susceptible plants to keep them from succumbing to stresses that would normally kill them.
“This process already exists, but it’s too slow,” said Sunter. “It doesn’t help in a crisis. We’re looking to aid mature plants by expressing protective traits within a single growing season.”
In pursuit of that goal, Sunter is working with a colony of whiteflies, an insect that is known to researchers for its efficiency in spreading disease among plants. However, in this case, instead of permitting the flies to infect plants with something that might kill them, the team is working to engineer the flies with genes that could save plants and help prevent a possible food shortage. All of the work is being carried out in contained facilities.
“Our goal is to take a DNA sequence that encodes a therapeutic protein and put it into the flies to deliver to at-risk plants,” said Sunter. “The plant would then express that beneficial trait, which could be disease resistance or drought tolerance.”
If the system is successful, it could potentially be adapted to benefit plants in other ways, Sunter explained. “For instance, it might be possible to enable plants with low salt tolerance to grow in salty conditions,” he said.
Sunter is collaborating with Penn State University, The University of Florida and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory on the project.
“Food security, and economic stability based on food security, is becoming a bigger issue because of our increasing global population,” he said. “The more that we invest in innovation, the better off we’ll be in the future.”
UTSA is ranked among the nation’s top four young universities, according to Times Higher Education.
Learn more about the UTSA Department of Biology.
Learn more about DARPA.
Campers in 9th grade through college will receive instruction and coaching on agility testing and position specific drills to refine and improve his skillset as a football player.Recreational Field Complex, Main Campus
Inspired by UTSA's renowned Mexican Cookbook Collection, the evening features cuisine and spirits of celebrated chefs from San Antonio and Mexico.Hotel Emma, 136 E. Grayson St., San Antonio
Experience a fun, interactive week at UTSA as new students and their families take the first steps to becoming a Roadrunner.Various locations, Main Campus
Campers 6-12 years old will enjoy the summer learning to read, write and speak the Chinese language. They also will learn about the Chinese culture such as martial arts, painting and drawing, arts and crafts and more.Confucius Institute at UTSA (MB 1.208), Main Campus
Campers 7th grade and up will focus on individual development with emphasis on simplifying and teaching the specific skills and movements associated with the game. Serving, passing, setting, attacking and individual defense will all be covered. In addition, team concepts will be emphasized.Convocation Center, Main Campus
Celebrate Texas' diversity with authentic ethnic cuisine, music, dance, arts and crafts from the many countries that make up the rich heritage of Texas.UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures, Hemisfair Campus
Kids from kindergarten through high school will immerse in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math through hands-on activities.Applied Engineering and Technology (AET 0.102), Main Campus and Buena Vista Street Building (BVB 3.328), Downtown Campus
Novice and experienced boys and girls in grades 1-8 will be divided up by age and ability to gain the most skills and knowledge for their level of play.Park West Athletics Complex