Increases in greenhouse gas emissions caused elevation of global temperatures and changes in rainfall patterns which significantly affects agricultural economics. Environmental factors such as heat, drought, and increased soil salinity causes significant damage to most plant species, particularly in the summer months. For example, in 2011, the State of Texas alone suffered more than $5.2 billion in damage to agriculture products due to dry weather combined with elevated air temperatures. The global average temperature is predicted to increase 0.3°C every 10 years, threatening the future of crop production. My lab is focused on understanding how plants respond to environmental stress. There are two major themes in Morsy’s lab:
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Characterization of the three-way symbiosis associated with plant heat tolerance: This project
focuses on understanding the molecular mechanisms of the mutualistic association between panic grass (Dichanthelium lanuginosumi), that can survive temperatures of 65°C because of symbiotic association with the fungal endophyte Curvularia protuberata carrying a mycovirus named Curvularia thermotolerance virus (CThTV). This project is funded by the National Science Foundation award number 1354050.
Discovery of fungal endophytes associated with environmental stress tolerant plants in Alabama: The long-term objective of this research is to elucidate the survival mechanisms of plants growing under extreme natural habitat of Alabama. The ultimate goal is to apply locally identified fungi associated with stress tolerant wild plants into crop plants to improve their production and environmental stress tolerance. Our team has discovered a number of beneficial endophytes, which would have a positive implication of future crop production. This project is funded by the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grants, award number 14-SCBGP-AL-0001.