Primed for battle


A plant heavily colonized by a bacterial pathogen. Jeannette Rapicavoli/UC Riverside, CC BY-ND

Primed for battle: helping plants fight off pathogens by enhancing their immune systems

Civilization as it is known today could not have evolved, nor can it survive, without an adequate food supply. – Norman Borlaug

Most people have never heard of Norman Borlaug. He is, thus far, the only agricultural scientist ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize. His work in the development of high-yielding and disease-resistant cereal crops saved more than one billion (yes, billion) people from starvation.

Though he uttered these words nearly 50 years ago, his message could not be more relevant today. We live in a world that is expected to exceed nine billion people by around 2050, and currently, some 800 million people do not have enough food to live a healthy and active life.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization projects that we need to increase food production by at least 70% to accommodate this surge in population growth. This is a daunting task, made even more difficult by the fact that nearly 20% of the global harvest is lost to plant diseases. One of the most efficient ways to combat these diseases is through chemical control – the application of pesticides. However, pathogens can quickly develop resistance to pesticides, which can then require ever higher usage to maintain production. There are also environmental and health concerns associated with the application of potentially toxic chemicals to fields. Read more.