Researchers worldwide seeking ways to stop costly wheat fungus

Researchers at the United Kingdom's (U.K) University of Exeter, with funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), are addressing one of the biggest and costliest issues facing food security -- Septoria tritici blotch (STB), which is a disease that affects wheat, the world’s most widely grown crop.

Wheat crops are worth more than $2 billion to the U.K. economy, and the losses from the disease, which is caused by the fungal pathogen Zymoseptoria tritici, are estimated to be between $101 million and $205 million annually, depending on the severity of the infection. Professor Sarah Gurr, from Exeter Biosciences, estimated that the disease could cost the economies of France, Germany and the U.K., the three main European Union wheat-growing countries, between $137 million and $700 million annually.

Every year, about 70 percent of all European fungicides target Zymoseptoria tritici, but what alarms growers is that the pathogen is becoming increasingly resistant.

The problem is so urgent that the international journal Fungal Genetics and Biology is dedicating its entire June 2015 issue to STB and Zymoseptoria tritici. Exeter Biosciences contributors include Professor Gero Steinberg, Professor Ken Haynes, Gurr, David Studholme and Professor Nick Talbot.

This special issue is being edited by Steinberg, who collated 17 articles from Exeter and 11 other articles from numerous other research groups worldwide. It is entitled "Understanding Septoria tritici wheat blotch: Tools and techniques to study pathogenicity in Zymoseptoria tritici" and provides an overview of the current knowledge of the fungus and its pathogenic potential.

Papers in the issue highlight the economic impact of STB on wheat and current knowledge of the cell biology and genome organization in the fungus and the host-pathogen interaction. Other articles introduce techniques and molecular tools to study STB. Contributions have been made by 65 authors from 25 institutions, both in academia and industry, from the U.K., the U.S., the Netherlands, Iran, Tunisia, Germany, France, Ireland, Switzerland and Australia.


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