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Daniela Cardenas examines sugarcane orange rust spores under a microscope

UF graduate student named Chateaubriand Fellow to join expert team on biotrophic rust fungal pathogens to study sugarcane orange rust disease

FORT PIERCE, Fla.— A plant pathology doctoral candidate who investigates disease-related effectors from a sugarcane fungal pathogen is a 2021-2022 Chateaubriand Fellow.

Daniela Cárdenas, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Indian River Research and Education Center (IRREC) in Fort Pierce, Florida, was selected for the honor. Cárdenas will study and perform research at Sebastian Duplessis’s laboratory at INRAE University of Lorraine, in Nancy, France. At IRREC, Cárdenas’ research is led by Liliana Cano, an assistant professor of plant pathology. There, the focus of Cárdenas’ work involves pathogen effectors, small molecules that alter host plants to promote infection.

Sugarcane is a major crop in Florida, where growers produce about 400,000 acres of sugarcane annually, with an estimated farmgate value of $750 million, according to UF/IFAS research data. UF/IFAS plant scientists breed about 90% of the crop grown in Florida.

Recently, sugarcane is a target for potential bioenergy production. Cárdenas studies a fungus, orange rust, that has a negative impact on plant yield and profitability. Orange rust has spread more rapidly and to more cultivars in the last five years, as outlined in a UF/IFAS publication available on “AskIFAS.”

“We aim to understand the molecular interaction between the pathogen, Puccinia kuehnii, orange rust fungus, and its host — sugarcane,” said Cárdenas. “To achieve this goal, we need to identify effector proteins the fungus secretes to promote pathogenicity.”

Cano said the pathogen, Puccinia kuehnii, is commonly known as orange rust. The disease appears like rust as it spreads on upper sugarcane leaves.

“The disease is worldwide. We plan to fight the pathogen with an international team of scientists,” said Cano. “Daniela will continue with her work on investigating the biology of the orange rust pathogen while she is in France and strengthen the collaboration with INRAE University of Lorraine, one of the world’s most important agricultural research institutions.”

Cárdenas’ work to investigate the genetics and genomics of sugarcane is “Genomic analyses of the interactions between sugarcane and Puccinia kuehnii causing orange rust.”

“Orange rust disease depletes sugarcane yield and reduces sugar content,” said Cárdenas. “Our research findings may lead to the identification of the target proteins in the host plant and consequently to the genes involved in the immune response of sugarcane to orange rust.”

The Chateaubriand Fellowship is a grant awarded by the Embassy of France in the U.S. and supports distinguished Ph.D. students from American universities who seek to perform research as a visiting scholar in France. Cárdenas will participate in the Fellowship for six months, to begin in September this year.

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