Wheat gene shows new defense mechanism

A study published recently in Nature Genetics reported that the wheat gene Lr67 has shown potential to help wheat resist four types of serious fungal diseases.

Researchers said scientists can now breed the gene into high-yield varieties in the hopes that growers will save billions in grain loss and fungicide purchases.

“With climate change and more intensive cropping, we’ve observed the emergence and rapid spread of new, highly virulent strains of various fungi that are able to overcome the genetic resistance in today’s widely sown wheat varieties,” Ravi Singh, scientist and co-author of the study, said. “The worst are the three wheat rust diseases, which cause grain losses worldwide estimated at $2.9 billion every year. Another type of commonly used gene, known as a ‘major-action gene,’ completely blocks diseases by triggering the death of cells around infection sites. Although apparently powerful, these genes are easily overcome by a single mutation in the pathogen and their resistance typically lasts only three to five years.” 

Hans Braun, the director of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center's global wheat program, said wheat varieties with this type of gene would be perfect for organic farming because farmers would not have to worry about using pesticides to prevent the fungi.

The study was conducted by scientists from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center; the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences; Mexico’s National Institute of Forestry, Agriculture, and Livestock Research; the Norwegian University of Life Sciences; Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization; the University of Newcastle; and the University of Sydney.

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International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center

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