Significance of Plant Diseases in the Biofuels Arena

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Soilborne fungi that cause disease in switchgrass have been isolated and identified in our laboratory from Tennessee growers’ fields and research plots, and from commercial switchgrass seed produced in the Midwest and Southeast.  These fungi are able to survive in soil without a host plant for long time periods under unfavorable environmental conditions. Many of these fungi have large host ranges. For example, in addition to switchgrass, these pathogens can cause disease on important grain and grass crops in the U.S., such as corn, wheat, oats, rice, sorghum, and turfgrass. 

Several of the soilborne fungal pathogens of switchgrass are also seedborne and can negatively impact stand establishment, through seed rot, seedling damping-off, reduced seedling vigor, and root rot. Lack of a certification program for switchgrass seed creates the possibility that seedborne pathogens are being distributed in the U.S. via commercial seed.

In our studies, some of the most potentially damaging fungi isolated from diseased switchgrass were species of Bipolaris and Fusarium, which can cause significant economic losses in grain crops. 

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