“Corn Smut Disease” a Threat to Canadian Corn – Trent University student Ibraheem explains

Did you know that Canada is the 10th highest producer of corn worldwide?!

Every year, we produce an average of more than 14 million tonnes of corn!!

But the health of our corn crops are being threatened due to climate change. 

Crops respond to the stress of warming temperatures the same way that we humans respond to job interviews – STRESSED OUT! 

Extreme weather events leaves our crops scrambling – and can lead to accumulation of fungus creation.

A virulent and resistant strain of fungus, called “Corn Smut Disease” is currently threatening our corn stalks.

Common symptoms include mushroom-like tumors or galls. Although the swellings begin small, they expand and turn black as they fill the spores! That could mean millions of dollars being lost in the economy, as well as precious resources wasted 😦

Ibraheem Alimi, originally from Nigeria, is completing his Master of Science Environment and Life Sciences Graduate Program at Trent University with a specialization in Cell Biology and Genetics to study this topic.

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His research focuses on understanding the molecular mechanism behind the formation of tumors in the nasty Corn Smut disease, which is caused by a fungus called Ustilago maydis.

Ibraheem takes samples from field or controlled experiments in the growth chamber or greenhouse at Trent University for analysis in the laboratory. He uses methods in molecular biology to analyze DNA and RNA as well as mass spectrometry to analyze very small metabolites.

He wants to understand how corn responds and metabolizes this disease by specifically focusing on the signaling of a plant hormone called cytokinin – which is elevated within the Corn Smut tumors.

By understanding the metabolism and signaling of cytokinin within these tumors, Ibraheem can provide insight into how the tumours develop- — but more importantly, how to create strategies to stop the tumours from forming in the first place! 

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Through his research, Ibraheem is discovering more about the metabolism and signalling of cytokinin during the formation of tumors in the corn smut disease. The elevated levels of cytokinins observed in tumors can contribute towards the formation of tumors. He is also investigating strategies to inhibit tumor formation by reducing the levels of cytokinin within these tumors.

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A very similar fungus called UG99 is virulent and causes rapid and widespread destruction of wheat crops in Africa and the middle east; further contributing to economic constraints within these developing countries.

Ibraheem hopes his research can be used in developing strategies to inhibit tumor formation and mitigate the negative impacts of fungal diseases on crop production.

Accumulations of toxics in our atmosphere have encouraged researchers, like Ibraheem, to study and examine the origins and possible solutions to the problems.

Studying crops that are under the stress of extreme weather can help us understand the effects of climate change and help us mitigate the effects.

Ibraheem says,

“The ENLS graduate program, the Saville Laboratory and Emery Laboratory have been supportive of my research. Likewise, Trent University and the Office of Graduate Studies have also supported my research through the administration of NSERC Research Fellowships, graduate bursaries and travel awards. Special thanks to Linda Cardwell from ENLS for providing advise with regards to my theses, Jane Rennie from the Office of Graduate Studies for advice regarding research funding. I will also like to thank all current and past members of the Saville Laboratory and Emery Laboratory most especially my supervisors Barry Saville and Neil Emery as well as others such as Amanda Seto, Erin Morrison, Anna Kisiala, Emilee Storfie and Colleen Doyle. Over the course of my MSc, I truly believe that my technical, research, teaching, presentation and laboratory skills have greatly improved, and I really enjoyed being able to apply my knowledge and passion for molecular biology. I enjoyed studying Cell Biology and Genetics at Trent and the experience I gain from this will be applicable to my future endeavors.”

Thanks for sharing your research with us, Ibraheem!

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