Imana Power, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Plant Pathology, works with the Peanut Collaborative Research Support Program (Peanut CRSP) to develop peanut varieties with resistance to multiple diseases for use in Latin American and Caribbean countries.

As part of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Peanut CRSP focuses on alleviating the major constraints that limit sustainable peanut production. CRSP peanut research has been particularly important to the realization of USAID’s goals because the peanut is an important crop in many areas of the developing world.

Power works specifically with a leaf disease of peanut, peanut rust (Puccinia arachidis), which is especially prevalent on peanut grown in developing countries where farmers typically cannot afford machines, fertilizers, and other chemicals to help the crop grow.

“Peanut rust is a very big problem in developing countries where temperatures are favorable for both the peanut host and the peanut rust fungus,” Power explains. “In those countries, peanut can survive year-round and thus so can the biotrophic pathogen.”

Under normal cultivation conditions, crop decline due to infection by the peanut rust fungus can account for yield losses as high as 50%. In areas where peanut rust causes frequent problems, methods to manage the disease, including fungicidal sprays, are often not an option due to cost and limited availability of fungicides.

Currently, Power is working with Dr. Albert Culbreath to screen and characterize available peanut breeding lines for resistance to peanut rust. She hopes her research will identify existing peanut rust resistant crops that can be used immediately.

Specific objectives of the study include evaluating crop resistance and the components of resistance in newly developed peanut breeding lines, identifying rust resistant genes in peanut breeding lines using molecular markers and assessing the genetic variation among peanut rust populations.

“Studying the genetics of peanut rust will enable us to effectively breed for resistance to the disease and thus effectively manage it in the long run,” says Power.

Power’s field research has identified breeding lines with high levels of peanut rust resistance, of which several lines show additional resistance to other peanut diseases prevalent in tropical climates. She hopes to cultivate rust resistance plants as an alternative management approach, one she hopes can be beneficial to growers across a range of production levels.

“Peanut production in these developing counties is mostly done by hand and the farmers live off of what is produced on the farm. Peanut rust is so devastating that it can destroy a field in a matter of weeks. When a crop is destroyed, farmers will not only lose their source of income, they will also no longer be able to feed their family,” Power says.

After graduating, Power plans to return to her home country of Suriname in South America to contribute to and expand agricultural research and education.