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Rebstock continues alfalfa research through SRI grant

February 2, 2023

For over two years, DSU Biology student Travis Rebstock has been researching alfalfa with Dr. Andrew Sathoff, Assistant Biology Professor. He is continuing that research through a Student Mentored Research Initiative grant from the University.

During the summer of 2021, Rebstock and fellow biology students studied Pythium, a seedling disease that impacts alfalfa. They started by testing soil samples and assessing fungicides for possible treatment options along with characterizing benefits of different alfalfa seed lines.

Rebstock enjoys the problem-solving nature of research. He also likes sharing those results with farmers to help them with future crops of alfalfa.

“It’s applied research that has value to the growers out there,” Sathoff said.

 In 2022, they continued researching biological controls to defend alfalfa from disease. Biological controls (biocontrols) involve using another microbe to see how it can defend the plant against Aphanomyces or Pythium (root rot).   

Biocontrols are another option for treating plants other than a fungicide. They are more environmentally friendly and can be used by organic farmers.

They found biocontrols worked on both Pythium and Aphanomyces, but had the best results with Pythium biocontrols.

Throughout their research, they found the presence of another pathogen. “We did the Pythium work that we’ve talked about, and when we sent it off for DNA sequencing, we found that some of the isolates were Fusarium isolates,” Rebstock said.

They are currently studying whether these Fusarium isolates are pathogenic toward alfalfa.

“Travis is growing alfalfa right now in the growth chambers,” Sathoff said. “We received some special lines from the USDA that react to Fusarium inoculation.”

The alfalfa has to grow for eight weeks before it can be infected with the pathogen, Rebstock explained.

After infection, it takes another 12 weeks to determine the results. Once that is complete, they will test if fungicides can combat the disease.

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