Research Priorities

Since 1907, the Department of Plant Pathology at the University of Minnesota has been a world leader in plant health research. The field of plant pathology continues to evolve and our research priorities reflect the contemporary complexities of our field. Research conducted by our faculty, staff, and students falls into three main emphasis areas.

Plant Disease Biology and Disease Management

Our department has always and will always be dedicated to the management of crop and ecosystem diseases important to the state of Minnesota, the upper Midwest, and throughout the U.S. Our researchers study plant disease etiology (causes of disease), epidemiology (spread of disease), biology, and control. Significant research areas include fungal diseases of wheat and other small grains, soybean, corn, and forests. We also have significant emphases on plant virology, nematology, diseases of horticultural crops, and biocontrol of diseases in the agricultural setting. While our research solves problems at the local level, we also have global impact, studying plant diseases around the world to improve food security and reduce the risk of pathogen introduction into the U.S. and Minnesota.

A key partner in Plant Disease Biology and Disease Management research, the University of Minnesota Plant Disease Clinic provides researchers, farmers, agroindustry, homeowners, and others with rapid and accurate plant disease diagnostics. Other Plant Disease Biology and Disease Management affiliates include the USDA-ARS Cereal Disease Laboratory, the USDA Forest Service North Central Research Station, Minnesota Department of Agriculture, and University of Minnesota Extension.

Genetics, Genomics, and Application of Plant Disease Resistance

Our Department recognizes that the genetic control of plant diseases is fundamental to long-term, sustainable plant health management in production systems and the natural ecosystem. Our researchers work at landscape, field, whole plant, and molecular scales to understand plant responses to pathogens, to study the evolution of disease resistance in plants, and to identify and deploy genetic resistance for crop and forest protection. Our researchers make widespread use of crop wild relatives and genebank collections as treasure-troves of useful genetic resistance. We are leading efforts to develop genomics, informatics, and phenomics (high throughput plant phenotying) methods to fully capitalize upon crop wild relatives for plant improvement in the face of a changing global climate. Our researchers also study the evolution of plant disease resistance genes as a function of pathogen diversity. Research collaborators on plant disease resistance efforts include the USDA-ARS Cereal Disease Laboratory and several University of Minnesota plant breeding programs affiliated primarily with the Departments of Agronomy & Plant Genetics and Horticultural Science.

Faculty with a research emphasis in Genetics, Genomics, and Application of Plant Disease Resistance:

Microbial Biology, Pathogenomics, and Microbiome Research

Our scientists study the biology of microbes associated with plants. Research emphases include the population genetics of wheat rusts and the molecular basis of pathogenesis and pathogen virulence in fungi and bacteria. Knowledge gained from the study of plant pathogens at the population and molecular levels is translated into pathogen monitoring applications, improved crop genetics, and effective disease management strategies.

Our research also recognizes that microbes other than pathogens can impact plant health, often in positive ways. Our researchers study microbial population dynamics, especially in the agricultural setting, to understand plant impacts on microbial communities, microbial community impacts on plant health, and environmental factors dictating the outcomes of microbe-plant interactions. Collectively, these efforts aim to understand how management of plant-associated microbial communities can suppress crop diseases and positively impact all aspects of plant health and productivity.

Faculty with a research emphasis in Microbial Biology, Pathogenomics, and Microbiome Research: