(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.
The YWCA of San Antonio will host Heidi Rueda of UTSA’s Department of Social Work and other panel members in a discussion of teen dating violence.503 Castroville Road, San Antonio
As part of UTSA’s Department of Anthropology Lecture Series, primatologist Michelle Bezanson of Santa Clara University will speak on difficulties for primate research because so many species are endangered and the narrow window of opportunity to make a difference in conservation. The event will be free and open to the public.Student Union, Pecan Room (SU 2.01.26), Main Campus
Admission is free to all Alumni Association members. Nonmember adult admission is $20; children 16 and under are free. Anyone who wants to get rowdy is welcome! Giveaways, music, UTSA Cheer & Rowdy, Pep Band and more!Alamodome Lot C, 100 Montana St., San Antonio
The Roadrunners celebrate homecoming, facing in-state rival Rice Owls.Alamodome, 100 Montana St., San Antonio
The UTSA faculty, staff, and students are invited to this free event to learn about the importance of wellbeing, early detection, health maintenance, stress reduction, and staying fit!Student Union, Paseo Principal, Main Campus
Representatives from schools across the state and country will be on hand to meet with prospective students and discuss admissions requirements, funding opportunities and details regarding program offerings. Each of UTSA’s colleges will have representatives available.Student Union, Main Campus
UTSA’s Policy Studies Center presents Michael D. Green, professor of law at Wake Forrest University, as part of its Distinguished Lecture Series. Green is a nationally and internationally recognized torts teacher and scholar. Admission is free and open to the public.Frio Street Building (FS 1.512), Downtown Campus
The University of Texas at San Antonio is dedicated to the advancement of knowledge through research and discovery, teaching and learning, community engagement and public service. As an institution of access and excellence, UTSA embraces multicultural traditions and serves as a center for intellectual and creative resources as well as a catalyst for socioeconomic development and the commercialization of intellectual property - for Texas, the nation and the world.
To be a premier public research university, providing access to educational excellence and preparing citizen leaders for the global environment.
We encourage an environment of dialogue and discovery, where integrity, excellence, inclusiveness, respect, collaboration and innovation are fostered.