Teachers learn about pathogen detection

Zack Bateson, research scientist at the National Agriculture Genotyping Center in North Dakota, spoke to teachers at the Nebraska Corn Board-sponsored Ag Biotech workshop. Dr. Bateson contributes to research and development of assays to detect pathogens and resistance genes in a variety of hosts, including both crops and livestock.

The National Agricultural Genotyping Center (NAGC) was established in 2016 by the National Corn Growers Association in partnership with Los Alamos National Laboratory. NAGC’s mission is “to translate scientific discoveries into solutions for production agriculture, food safety, functional foods, bioenergy and national security.” The center wants to be a bridge between academic research and producers, bringing technological advances to growers.

Bateson explained how polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is used in molecular biology to make many copies of a specific DNA segment. PCR has been used at NAGC to detect and identify pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi. North Dakota is the country’s top honey producer, but has experienced many colony losses in recent years, as has most of the country. NAGC created a test panel to determine what microbes or pathogens may be affecting the hives. They are tracking 750 colonies for the next two years as part of this research, with a goal of helping beekeepers to more effectively identify and address diseases plaguing bee colonies.

NAGC is also working to help corn growers differentiate between the origins of leaf streak disease. It’s important to know if it is bacteria or fungus, because treatment is different. PCR allows better detection and greater sensitivity than culturing or microscopy.

Bateson said, “Biotech education creates a lot of opportunities for future scientists—there is a strong need in the agriculture disciplines.” Teachers at this ag biotech workshop will be able to share career information with their students.