Corn is the backbone of the American food supply. Yet, about 10% of corn (equal to a field as big as the entire state of Florida!) is lost to disease and other types of crop stress each year. How can we make corn and other crops hardier so that we can grow more food, using less land and other resources? In her thesis research, Katie Murphy studies the synthesis of biochemicals produced by corn that help it survive stressful conditions such as drought and disease. She and her colleagues identified a new class of biochemicals called dolabralexins and showed that corn roots produce these molecules in response to drought and fungal infection, two common types of crop stress. She also determined that synthesis of dolabralexins and other terpenes influences the root microbiome of corn plants. Finally, Murphy’s work showed that dolabralexins have direct antifungal properties and identified the functional groups on dolabralexins that are necessary for this function. These findings may help scientists develop stress-resistant crops so that we are better equipped to feed a growing global population.
Katie Murphy is a PhD Candidate at the University of California, Davis in Dr. Philipp Zerbe’s lab, where she studies specialized metabolism in maize (corn) and how it relates to the maize stress response. Katie Murphy LinkedIn page Continue Reading