Fungal pathogens represent a large and economically significant challenge to crops worldwide. The challenge is so great, in fact, diseases caused by fungal pathogens can cause crop losses of 10% to 20% (worth $100 billion to $200 billion) each year.

Historically, a variety of biological, chemical, and mechanical methods have been used to fight fungal diseases, said Roger Wise, a plant geneticist with the USDA's Agricultural Research Service Corn Insects and Crop Genetics Research unit in Ames, Iowa. Lately, though, researchers have focused on molecular methods to develop disease-resistant crops, which would reduce the need for, and damage caused by, chemical fungicides.

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Plant geneticist Roger Wise examines barley while researching ways to fight diseases caused by fungal pathogens. (Photo courtesy of Roger Wise.)

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