While soybeans are a common crop grown in many parts of the world, they remain a complex research subject for many plant scientists. To encourage the next generation to take interest in soybean research, the United Soybean Board (USB) awards fellowships each year to graduate students who demonstrate an interest and great potential for advancing the science behind soybean improvement.
One of the recent fellowships was awarded to an Ohio State grad student, Anna Stasko, who is working toward a doctorate degree in Plant Pathology.
The research Stasko is involved in – along with her advisor, Dr. Anne Dorrance – focuses on isolating the individual genes that contribute to pathogen resistance. In particular, she is working on partial resistance to Phytophthora sojae, a soil-borne pathogen that develops in soils that are saturated soon after planting and exhibits more in heavy or clay soil types. The pathogen causes root rot and is one of Ohio’s largest contributors to soybean yield loss each year. While there are single genes used for complete resistance, the pathogen is now able to overcome many of those and partial resistance would serve as a built in safety net.
“Partial resistance is considered to be more durable; you have a lower rate of disease. Even under high disease pressure you can still get good yields,” said Stasko. The goal with my research is going back through the parts of the genome we have found that are protecting the plant and try to find the individual genes that are actually involved.”
Stasko’s interest in science began at a young age and was fostered through high school biology classes and a summer job at a seed company after high school.
“I knew from high school biology I was interested in genetics – looking at genes and how they work,” said Stasko. “In college, I found out about the opportunity to research with the USDA and spent three summers doing work in their plant pathology labs. For me, it was really the first time my interests in plants, genetics and disease all came together and I realized I wouldn’t have to go to medical school to still do research that would have a meaningful impact.”
According to Neal Hageman, who serves as the research director for USB, “The fellowships are designed to support PhD graduate students who are doing their research in some area of soybean science and have the intention to pursue a career in soybean sciences, production research or breeding.”
The fellowship provides a stipend for Stasko and allows the department to put their other resources toward furthering research and broadening their reach. Once Stasko completes her doctorate degree she hopes to pursue a faculty position that will allow her to continue agricultural research that connects with what is happening on farms today while reaching out to a wider audience with students.