Jennifer O’Neal: Fighting Plant Disease
Plant diseases can quickly change entire landscapes, impacting forests and crops, and all the people and animals dependent on them for survival. Sudden Oak Death, Cinnamon Fungus, and Fireblight are just some of the plant diseases causing ecological distress in 2007.
To help prevent such problems, Jennifer O’Neal is studying potential techniques to prevent plant diseases.
Many plant diseases are caused by pathogens including bacteria. In order to effectively infect plants and evade their defense systems, bacterial pathogens control their pathogenesis via a sophisticated cell-to-cell communication mechanism called quorum sensing. By interfering with this bacterial communication, so-called quorum quenching, it is possible to suppress plant disease development.
O’Neal, a senior majoring in Biology, and Bioinformatics and Molecular Biology, says the goal of her research is to unravel the quorum quenching mechanism used by bacteria residing in the interior of plants. For that, she has isolated and studied various quorum quenching bacteria from the interior of potato plants.
Her project, "Endophytic Quorum Quenching Bacteria for Use As Biopesticide" won third place in the applied category of the 2007 Undergraduate Research Forum and Awards. Jong-In Han, Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, supervised the project.