Austin Joel Case

Ph.D. student, Plant Pathology

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AustinStem rust, a major issue in small grains, is a pathogen that can cause devastating loss in wheat and barley. Austin Case is working to identify the genes that confer rust resistance. Highly virulent stem-rust races like those in the UG99 race group from East Africa pose a significant threat to food security, because they can kill the vast majority of wheat and barley cultivars grown worldwide, he says.

While chemical controls can work on rust, they’re not always desirable for economic or environmental reasons, he says. Breeding disease-resistant crops is more economically and environmentally sustainable.

His research involves screening a diverse collection of barley accessions for resistance to stem rust and then dissecting their corresponding resistance genes with molecular techniques.

“The ultimate goal of this research is to provide these genes as a tool for barley breeders to incorporate stem-rust resistance in their breeding programs and to improve food security,” Case says. “I am interested in this topic because it has the potential to have such a profound effect on food security. I have always been driven by Norman Borlaug’s call to ‘take it to the farmer.’ I like that the research that I am doing will someday be translated to a product that a farmer will utilize to increase food security and sustainability.”