Researchers at North Carolina State University have found a specific gene in corn that appears to be associated with resistance to three important plant leaf diseases.

In a paper published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, North Carolina State plant pathologists and crop scientists pinpoint the gene — glutathione S-transferase — that seems to confer resistance to Southern leaf blight, gray leaf spot and northern leaf blight, a trio of diseases that cripple corn plants worldwide.

Finding out more about the mechanisms behind complex traits like disease resistance can potentially help plant breeders build the best traits into tomorrow’s corn plants, says paper co-author Peter Balint-Kurti, a research plant pathologist and geneticist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agriculture Research Service (USDA-ARS) who works in North Carolina State’s plant pathology and crop science departments.

The North Carolina State researchers joined lead author Randy Wisser, an assistant professor at the University of Delaware, and other researchers from the University of Delaware, Cornell University and Kansas State University in examining 300 diverse maize varieties from across the globe which are, on average, as different from one another as humans are from chimpanzees.