Scientists target costly wheat disease

By Catherine Boal

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Gene, Genetics

Plant scientists have come closer to reducing the destructive
effects of the virulent wheat disease, crown rot.

Armed with more information on the genetic make-up of the gene which causes the disease, researchers are hoping the next step will be developing ways to prevent crop damage.

Crown rot, caused by the fungus fusarium, costs the wheat industry $50m (€29.7m) in lost yield each year, it has posed a problem for researchers seeking to breed resistant wheat due to its propensity to develop new strains.

The scientists at Australia's CSIRO Plant Industry facility collected and examined over 55 strains of Fusarium pseudograminearum with a view to mapping its exact genetic family tree and learning more of its biological diversity.

CSIRO scientist Dr Sukumar Chakraborty said: "We wanted to find out if virulent strains were genetically different to less virulent strains and whether this difference is consistent across strains from different countries and regions."

By gene sequencing Fusarium, the team were able to discover that four important genes in the fungus had derived from a single family unit.

Dr Chakraborty said: "We are further studying links between the Australian family group of fusarium and their virulence to ensure that new crown rot-resistant wheats are resistant to all strains."

The CSIRO team are currently involved in ongoing research to find fusarium-resistant wheat and isolate the resistant gene which could then be used to heighten the resistance of other plants.

Crown rot disease is typically found in crops grown in New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and the US and is one of the top five most damaging wheat diseases in Australia.

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