Factor 1 - Research Assignment Position 1M1566 vice Williams RL position A. Assigned Responsibility The incumbent is Supervisory Research Geneticist and Research Leader of the Corn Host Plant Resistance Research Unit, Crop Science Research Laboratory, Mississippi State, Mississippi. The Unit conducts research on host plant resistance to disease and insect pests of corn in support of ARS National Program 301--Plant Genetic Resources, Genomics, and Genetic Improvement. As Research Leader of the unit, incumbent is responsible fundholder for all projects, provides primary supervision for unit scientists, and secondary supervision for other lab personnel. Finally, the incumbent will develop a vision (in collaboration with National Program Staff and the Area Office) for how the unit will continue to serve its stakeholders and the American public to improve crop production in the US. The Research Leader coordinates the activities of a multi-disciplinary team that also includes a research plant pathologist, two research geneticists, and a research entomologist. The incumbent is responsible for plant breeding and molecular genetics aspects of the team’s research on disease and insect resistance. The incumbent is responsible for devising and leading research that requires a sophisticated, multi-disciplinary approach and provides leadership to the team of scientists. B. Research Objectives and Methodology Incumbent will (1) evaluate maize (corn) germplasm to identify sources of resistance to fall armyworm, and Aspergillus flavus/aflatoxin. (2) Identify quantitative trait loci, genes, and proteins associated with resistance in corn to A. flavus infection and aflatoxin accumulation via genetic linkage and association mapping; (3) Develop and conduct Marker Assisted Selection. (4) Determine the genetic mechanisms by which the resistant plant impedes fungal infection or the production of aflatoxin. (5) Develop and release corn germplasm as inbred lines or populations with disease and insect resistance traits. (6) Develop mapping populations and will use association mapping and genome scanning for prediction of breeding value, pathway analysis of expression and association data, using next generation sequencing, qPCR and transcriptomics, and bioinformatics tools. Incumbent leads a team of 5 scientists dedicated to discovery of: a) New sources of resistance to Aspergillus flavus infection, aflatoxin accumulation, and fall armyworm damage. b) Genes associated with resistance to Aspergillus flavus infection, aflatoxin accumulation, and fall armyworm damage in maize. c) Molecular markers for enhancing resistance in maize to Aspergillus flavus infection, aflatoxin accumulation, and fall armyworm damage. d) Maize germplasm lines with desirable agronomic qualities and resistance to Aspergillus flavus infection and aflatoxin accumulation. e) Maize germplasm lines with desirable agronomic qualities and resistance to fall armyworm damage. C. Expected Results Successful completion of the incumbent's research objectives will provide a greatly expanded repertoire of genes, QTLs, and genetic markers for use in marker assisted breeding; new techniques and procedures for identification of genes and pathways 2 involved in mechanisms of resistance of maize plants to fungal and insect pathogens; and development and release of germplasm resistant to A. flavus and/or aflatoxin accumulation. D. Knowledge Required The incumbent must possess knowledge and experience in the areas of plant and molecular genetics; plant breeding concepts and field design; bioinformatics and statistical analysis and procedures. The incumbent must synthesize knowledge from many areas to develop and validate hypotheses regarding the complexity of quantitative host plant disease resistance. E. Supervisory Responsibilities Provides technical and administrative supervision of one research plant pathologist, GS12; two research geneticist, GS12; one research entomologist, GS12, one biological science technician, GS9, and one program support assistant, GS7. Is responsible for making selections for positions, assigning duties, reviewing work, approving/disapproving leave, and evaluating performance. Ensures equal opportunity is extended to all employees supervised and all candidates for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or non-disqualifying handicapping conditions. Ensures affirmative implementation of Equal Employment Opportunity plans of action and applicable Civil Rights provisions which includes full consideration of eligible minority group members and women in filling vacant positions; providing career counseling and orientation; enhancing career opportunities through training and development, job redesign, and/or similar techniques; and ensuring full consideration of these employees in recommending promotions, awards, and other forms of special recognition. Factor 2 – Supervisory Controls A. Assigned Authority The broad area of plant resistance in corn to insects and diseases is assigned to the incumbent who determines research needs, objectives, and approaches consistent with available funding and discussions with the Office of National Programs. Genetics of resistance to insects and diseases is complex, and expressions of resistance are sensitive to environmental variations. Investigations require sophisticated, multidisciplinary approaches. The incumbent has complete responsibility for formulating research and implementing projects. B. Technical Guidance Received The incumbent receives no technical supervision. Discussions with the Associate Area Director, the Area Director, and the National Program Staff concerning major shifts in research objectives are used to insure that projects in the Plant Science Research Unit are consistent with the appropriate ARS National Program Plans. 3 C. Review of Results The incumbent has full technical responsibility for interpreting findings, including their importance to the Agency and applicability to scientific methodology. The incumbent, as research leader, is responsible for approval of manuscripts produced by other scientists in the Unit. In accordance with ARS policies, manuscripts are submitted to the Director, Crop Science Research Laboratory, for final approval. D. General Supervision Incumbent is fully responsible for formulating research plans and assuring that they are carried out. Incumbent has the authority to make program changes within the research unit and commit resources within the limits of program funding. Incumbent is under the administrative supervision of the Director of the Crop Science Research Laboratory. Factor 3 - Guidelines and Originality A. Available Literature Literature on resistance to fall armyworm, A. flavus infection of corn and aflatoxin accumulation is limited. Information on interactions among numerous biotic and abiotic stresses on A. flavus infection and aflatoxin accumulation in crop plants is especially limited and often contradictory. Literature is available on most of the genetic mapping techniques used by the incumbent. Literature on validation or use of QTL for highly quantitative disease resistance is extremely limited. B. Originality Required Lack of suitable methodology is a most important constraint on identifying genetic factors providing resistance to A. flavus kernel infection and/or aflatoxin contamination. The extreme sensitivity of A. flavus to environmental conditions, differences among plant genetic backgrounds makes precise mapping especially difficult. A high degree of originality is required to define problems, develop hypotheses, and develop new mapping populations and approaches applicable to the genetic mapping of quantitative disease resistance. The incumbent must isolate critical aspects of the assignment and adapt existing principles and methodology into new combinations. Because minute quantities of aflatoxin (20 parts per billion) make corn unacceptable as food for humans and limit its acceptability as feed for livestock, developing corn germplasm with adequate levels of resistance is extremely difficult and requires originality in identifying and quantifying resistance to A. flavus infection and aflatoxin accumulation. Aflatoxin accumulation is strongly influenced by a wide range of poorly defined environmental factors. Identification and characterization of genes and proteins associated with resistance to A. flavus/aflatoxin requires specialized procedures in the field and sophisticated laboratory techniques. A high degree of originality is required in designing experiments to answer both genetic and entomological questions. Innovative laboratory bioassays and techniques for infesting plants and quantifying damage will permit corn genotypes with resistance to be identified, genetic improvements to be 4 made, and inheritance of resistance to be better understood. Characterization of genes and proteins associated with resistant and susceptible corn genotypes will provide additional methods for investigating inheritance of resistance to fall armyworm and A. flavus/aflatoxin and expedite the development and deployment of resistant hybrids by industry.