Mechanisms of Defense—studies in plant communication and survival

Signaling Mechanisms in Plants research cluster

Straightaway she sent up the harvest from the land with its rich clods of earth.
And all the wide earth with leaves and blossoms was laden.
                                                                        — Excerpt from Hymn to Demeter, Homer

In ancient planting and harvest rituals, the name of Demeter, Greek goddess of agriculture and grain, was invoked to protect crops from disease and blight. In contemporary agriculture, wheat and barley are among the four largest grain crops grown around the world, and they still need protection. Wheat and barley are susceptible to pathogens and pests, and currently there are no naturally resistant varieties against some diseases. Each year millions of dollars worth of crops succumb to one particularly toxic and highly aggressive fungus: Fusarium head blight disease is capable of agricultural devastation on a vast scale, and it will take more than prayers to stave off this fungal grim reaper.

University of North Texas plant biologist Dr. Jyoti Shah hopes to control diseases such as Fusarium head blight by understanding and utilizing the natural defenses that plants use to protect themselves against pathogens and insects, and exploiting these to develop plants that are inherently more resistant. Shah directs various interrelated research projects that study how plants communicate at the cellular and whole plant level. He additionally lends expertise to the Signaling Mechanisms in Plants research cluster at UNT, an internationally recognized consortium of plant researchers whose combined research in plants’ growth, development, and defense responses to stress is shaping the future of plant biology.