For more than a quarter of a century, Jerald "Snook" Pataky's research in the University of Illinois Sweet Corn Hybrid Disease Nursery has been helping growers make important decisions to increase their profitability.
His observations and trends from evaluating sweet corn hybrids for disease resistance are featured this month in Plant Disease.
"Few crop scientists have anywhere near a quarter century of data – from their own lab – that tells such a comprehensive story," says Marty Williams, a weed ecologist with the USDA-ARS at the U of I. "Although the nursery represented only a portion of his research program, it shed light on major changes in the sweet corn industry from 1984 to 2010. I suspect this paper, or rather his program, will be seen as a landmark to the industry."
Since 1984, nearly 3,700 commercial or pre-commercial sweet corn hybrids have been evaluated for disease reactions in nurseries at the University of Illinois.
"Prior to the initiation of the U of I Sweet Corn Hybrid Nursery, well-documented information about disease reactions of sweet corn hybrids was not readily available," Pataky says. "But now, the reactions of nearly all commercial hybrids to the most prevalent diseases are known throughout the industry and easily accessible at www.sweetcorn.illinois.edu."
This nursery has achieved worldwide recognition and has served as an impetus for commercial sweet corn breeders to improve the resistance of the new hybrids being developed, he added.
"The disease nursery helps identify hybrid reactions to diseases such as rust, maize dwarf mosaic, northern corn leaf blight and others," Pataky notes. "We want to help the industry know which lines are not subject to injury as a result of host resistance, and those that are likely to sustain economic losses if any of the diseases are prevalent."
U of I researchers have played an important role in developing disease resistance in sweet corn, he said. In 1985, there were approximately five sweet corn hybrids with rust resistance. Today, more than half of the 600 commercial and pre-commercial hybrids available are rust-resistant and use genes that were identified by A.L. Hooker at U of I.
On a similar note, in the 1980s, only a handful of hybrids were resistant to maize dwarf mosaic virus (MDM). Today, nearly 100 commercial or pre-commercial MDM-resistant hybrids exist. The primary sources of resistance were the M-series of inbred lines developed by Dusty Rhodes and Mark Mikel at U of I.
Pataky says breeding disease resistance into sweet corn is not easy because it's a very diverse crop with three different endosperm types, three kernel colors, varying maturities and three primary uses, including processing, fresh market-shipper and fresh market-local sale.
"It's a matter of incorporating the right combination of resistances to multiple diseases in the hybrids that are suited for various market niches in different locations throughout the country," Pataky adds. "And with genetically diverse and changing pathogens, it's a unique challenge."