The Wallace Lab focuses on using quantitative genetics, genomics, bioinformatics, and statistics to understand complex traits in crop plants. Most of our own research focuses on the interactions between plants, especially maize (corn), and the microorganisms that live on and inside it. We also have several fruitful collaborations with other labs that let us work on more traditional traits (yield, nutrient use, etc.) in other crops.
The microbiome refers to the collection of microbes (mostly bacteria and fungi) living on and inside an organism. One of our main research foci is looking at how genetic variation in crops changes how they interact with microbes, using maize as a model organism. Maize is ideal for this because of its great genetic diversity and importance to global food security.
Tall fescue and Epichloë Endophytes
Tall Fescue (Festuca arundinacea) is a in important grass for both grazing and turf in the southeastern United States. Much of the tall fescue in the US is infected with a fungal endophyte, Epichloë coenophiala, that provides great stress resistance but can also harm grazing livestock. We study this symbiosis as a model of a strongly beneficial plant-microbe interaction to learn how the host plant can affect growth and toxin production in its endophyte. (Note: Progress on this project has been delayed due to a key collaborator’s lab closing unexpectedly.)
- Press Release: PGRP Grant to study fescue-endophyte interactions
Genomics of Complex Traits
Quantiative genetics deals with traits that are controlled by many (sometimes thousands) of individual genes. We use advanced statistical and computational methods to tease apart the relationship between plant phenotypes and the genes controlling them. These results can be used by breeders to create varieties with better disease resistance, lower water or fertilizer requirements, and/or improved nutrition. Most of these projects are done as collaborators with other labs.
Genetic tools for minor crops
Thanks to the low cost of modern sequencing, we can develop genetic and genomic tools for crops that have traditionally been too underfunded to afford them. These minor or neglected crops are not as widespread as the big staple crops (maize, rice, wheat, etc.), but they are still very important. Many fruit, nut, and vegetable crops fall into this category, as do staple crops that are important in the developing world. We use high-throughput sequencing to quickly analyze populations and develop genetic tools to help breeders better manage these important crops.
- Genetic diversity among commerical CBD hemp (Cannabis sativa) varieties
- Fonio (Digitaria exilis) genome and genetic diversity
- Population analysis in barnyard millet, foxtail millet, and several minor millets
- Mapping disease resistance and fertility restoration in pearl millet