(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.
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UTSA will offer science, engineering, architecture, sports, music, writing and language and culture camps for kids, teens and adults. Register now.Various locations, Main and Downtown Campuses
The weeklong academy will provide educators with resources, literature, information, and best practices on bringing Mexican American Studies into their classrooms. The materials provided are aligned to the social studies Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills objectives for middle and high school.UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures, Hemisfair Campus
Future Roadrunners and families prepare for everything they need to know before the fall semester.Various locations, Main and Downtown Campuses
This year’s theme, “Cultivate. Innovate. Collaborate.,” will explore new ideas and present success stories focused on: growing and sustaining rural communities, regional collaboration and rural innovation.New Braunfels Civic Center, 375 Castell Ave., New Braunfels
Lecture presented by Dr. Nelson Flores, associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Free and open to the public.Durango Building, La Villita Room (DBB 1.116), Downtown Campus
Are you transferring to UTSA? Take this opportunity to drop off any documents and complete your application for admission to UTSA! During this time you will have the opportunity to drive up, meet a staff member and submit your transcripts.Frio Street Building Breezeway, Downtown Campus
Are you transferring to UTSA? Take this opportunity to drop off any documents and complete your application for admission to UTSA! During this time you will have the opportunity to drive up, meet a staff member and submit your transcripts.Welcome Center Breezeway, Bauerle Rd. Garage, Main Campus
Willie Hale, UTSA assistant professor of psychology, will discuss how advances in statistical modeling can help us understand the ways in which a variety of risk and protective factors influence the onset, maintenance, and treatment of PTSD.Blue Star Contemporary, 116 Blue Star, San Antonio
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