(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.
Learn to use the simple but powerful features of EndNote®, a citation management tool. In this hands-on workshop, participants will learn to setup an EndNote library, save references and PDFs, and automatically create and edit a bibliography.Virtual Event
Learn to use Zotero®, a citation manager that can help you store and organize citations you find during your research. Zotero can generate bibliographies in various styles, insert in-text citations and allow you to share sources with collaborators.Virtual Event
This solo exhibition features the work of Delita Martin, a world-renowned master printmaker known for creating representations of black women in complex and luxuriant narrative portraits.Russell Hill Rogers Galleries, UTSA Southwest Campus
Hear perspectives on open educational resources (OER) from a variety of UTSA stakeholders. Learn about recent OER work across UT System, as well as platforms and support available to all UTSA faculty adopting or creating OER.Virtual Event
The UTSA Study Abroad office is pleased to announce the Spring 2024 Study Abroad Fair on Tuesday, March 5, 2024. Explore a world of opportunities through our exchange programs and UTSA-led programs.Sombrilla Plaza, Main Campus
Come celebrate the 30th anniversary of the MAS program in the UTSA College of Education and Human Development.La Villita Room, Downtown Campus
This workshop will teach you how to explore, clean, and transform your data and reproduce the steps you have taken using OpenRefine. Required to install OpenRefine before attending the workshop.John Peace Library (JPL 3.02.32,) Main 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.
UTSA is a proud Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) as designated by the U.S. Department of Education .
The University of Texas at San Antonio, a Hispanic Serving Institution situated in a global city that has been a crossroads of peoples and cultures for centuries, values diversity and inclusion in all aspects of university life. As an institution expressly founded to advance the education of Mexican Americans and other underserved communities, our university is committed to promoting access for all. UTSA, a premier public research university, fosters academic excellence through a community of dialogue, discovery and innovation that embraces the uniqueness of each voice.