The disease-conducive environment and the frequent new pathogens in Louisiana create an ongoing condition in which plant diseases are one of the most limiting factors in crop production. Prominent current examples are Cercospora leaf blight of soybean, sugarcane brown rust, sweet potato viruses, panicle blight of rice and reniform nematode in crops as well as boxwood dieback, daylily rust and rose rosette in home and urban landscapes. The research, teaching and extension programs in the Department of Plant Pathology and Crop Physiology generate basic knowledge and applied solutions to plant diseases. The department has the only program in the state for assessing threats, developing research strategies, generating results and devising solutions.
The soybean pathology program has discovered the new identity of the Cercospora leaf blight pathogen. This implies a much broader host range than just soybeans and explains why durable disease resistance has been so elusive. This will be important in efforts to breed for disease resistance. Yield loss studies in soybeans, corn and grain sorghum give producers a history of potential losses if they grow susceptible varieties.
The Plant Diagnostic Center provides services to state residents to diagnose problems by providing mail-in opportunities and on-site analyses at LSU AgCenter field days, garden shows and similar venues.
The scientific disciplines represented in the department are often called “found” professions, meaning most individuals don’t begin their academic careers with the intention of dealing with plant diseases but find their calling through other studies. This creates a passion for learning. The successful research in this department has generated significant outside funding and has attracted outstanding students who found their passion and want to further their careers in research.
The department research and teaching programs are educating the next generation of plant pathologists and crop physiologists. The department offers graduate programs for both the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees, and graduate students work alongside the award-winning faculty conducting investigations into diverse research areas including plant pathogenic microorganisms, mechanisms of host plant resistance and biology and epidemiology of emerging and re-emerging plant pathogens. Farmers and gardeners benefit from results of research on the impending failure of fungicides and how to deal with it, suppressing plant pathogens with macro- and micronutrients, DNA analysis for diagnostics and plant viral relationships. Students receive training in integrated disease management and techniques related to effective knowledge exchange to help bring the research results into the real world of production agriculture and landscape management.
Departmental graduate students have been recognized for their high-quality research, scholastic achievements and exceptional leadership and communication skills by numerous local and national organizations. Consequently, the graduates are well-prepared for challenging positions in academia, government and industry related to crop protection and plant disease management ensuring research and extension leadership for Louisiana.
Lawrence E. Datnoff is head of the Department of Plant Pathology and Crop Physiology.
Eduardo Chagas Silva, a graduate student working under LSU AgCenter plant pathologist Ray Schneider holds a soybean leaf in a solution used to expose the plant to cercosporin, the toxin associated with Cercospora leaf blight. Photo by Olivia McClure