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Defensive Genes Ward Off Pests

NSF Award:

North Dakota: Research Infrastructure and Partnerships for Discovery  (North Dakota State University Fargo)

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Forestry in the United States is a $200 billion per year industry that directly employs over a million people. However, native and exotic forest pests threaten this economic resource, as well as the ecological and aesthetic value of our forests. 

To enhance the breeding of pest-resistant trees, researchers at the University of North Dakota, North Dakota State University and the University of Florida have identified specific insect-resistant genes used by forest trees to defend themselves against invasive insects.

To make their discovery, the researchers used forward genetics, a highly effective method for screening genetic mutants in order to identify genes responsible for variation in a trait of interest. Thanks to recent advances in biotechnology, researchers can now apply this method to poplar trees, a model system for tree biology. Following the identification of mutants harboring insect-resistant genes, the researchers used a combination of biochemical assays, gene expression studies, and monitoring of insect performance to demonstrate that several of these genes are key regulators of plant defenses.


  • moth larvae choose which leaf disks to feed on in petri dish
Moth larvae avoid insect-resistant leaf disks.
Steven Ralph, University of North Dakota

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