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Molecular Innovation in Agriculture


NIST is using advanced measurement capabilities to provide integrated multi-omic analysis to plant science researchers and agronomy industry partners who are creating new crops, treatments, and strategies to combat diseases. Using genomic and transcriptomic resources, NIST provides insight into infectious agent-vector-plant problems in US agriculture at the protein and metabolite level.  These novel solutions will provide security to the US economy, resilience against existing and emerging diseases, and long-term production sustainability.


Graphic of an Erlenmeyer flask containing tilled soil, a watermelon leaf, and yellow wheat
Credit: A. Bayless/NIST

Plant science and breeding aim to develop new plant phenotypes with desired qualities, increased production, disease resistance, and traits that mitigate the effects of climate change.  At the federal level in the US, plant research is conducted by the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and Agricultural Research Service (ARS).  NIST researchers use cutting-edge *omic techniques to help direct hybrid and transgenic breeding, and to develop molecular tools for disease monitoring, treatment, and mitigation. For example, disease agents can be viral, bacterial, or fungal and may be transmitted by vectors such as white flies and psyllids that infect the host plant. The response of this complex agent-vector-host system can be characterized at the molecular level of each component to better understand host response, agent virulence, and vector transmission. Although efforts such as pan-genomics and transcriptomics are currently utilized in plant disease research, there is a need to include improved proteomic and metabolomic analysis in this complex system.

Currently, the NIST Charleston Omics Team is working with local partners at the USDA Vegetable Laboratory to define projects related to sweet potato and watermelon breeding, white fly management, and virus resistance. With other USDA collaborators, NIST Charleston is studying citrus greening disease (a psyllid-borne bacterial infection). NIST will leverage their expertise in proteomics and metabolomics to overcome measurement obstacles and promote innovative agriculture practices that support sustainability and security in the U.S. food chain.  Future efforts will engage USDA, research institutes, and industry stakeholders.

Created November 28, 2023, Updated April 29, 2024