FORT PIERCE, Fla.—A new Ph.D. has joined an international network of researchers who fight a sugarcane disease that impacts the commodity on a global scale. Daniela Cárdenas, a highly trained plant pathologist, works with transcriptomics of the sugarcane fungal rust pathogen Puccinia kuehnii. Liliana Cano co-directed Cárdenas’ graduate studies at the UF/IFAS Indian River Research and Education Center in Fort Pierce, Florida. Part of Cárdenas’ studies was carried out as a Chateaubriand Fellow in Sebastian Duplessis’ laboratory at INRAe Research Centre and the University of Lorraine in Nancy, France. There, Cárdenas’ joined a team of scientists who work on plant-rust fungal interactions for crops worldwide.
Florida growers produce about 400,000 acres annually, with an estimated farm-gate value of $750 million, according to UF/IFAS research data. UF/IFAS scientists breed about 90% of the crop grown in Florida. “Sugarcane is one of the most economically significant crops in the United States. But its production has been affected by Puccinia kuehnii, a biotrophic fungal pathogen that reduces crop yield,” said Cano.
Cano said Puccinia kuehnii secretes protein “effectors” to block plant immune responses and support the pathogen infection. The identification of effector proteins is essential to understand the basis of the molecular mechanisms behind plant interactions with the fungus.
Cárdenas’s work is pioneering transcriptomic analysis of the interaction between sugarcane and the rust fungus and identifies genes encoding the proteins produced during infection. “Further studies of the fungus effectors will advance the discovery of associated host plant genes involved in the resistance of sugarcane to orange rust disease that can be used to breed sugarcane,” said Cano.
“I applied a meta-transcriptome approach to identify fungal genes expressed during infection with potential pathogenicity roles,” said Cárdenas. Cárdenas, Cano, and Duplessis’ team identified a total of 2,239 proteins in two fungal races, some of which hold pathogen effectors. For her work as a Chateaubriand Fellow, Cárdenas was honored by leaders of the Chateaubriand organization with a second-place poster presentation award at the Chateaubriand South meeting in November 2022 in Gainesville.