Resistance not futile for UWA research team

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman
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It costs the Australian grains industry almost $80 million a year in lost production and is a chronic disease across the world, but University of WA (UWA) researchers are now one step closer to finding a wheat variety resistant to Fusarium crown rot.

The university is heading up an international team, which includes France's National Institute for Agricultural Research, CSIRO, InterGrain and China's Shijiazhuang Academy of Agricultural and Forestry Sciences, with the aim of developing genetic markers and identifying the genes responsible for resistance to crown rot.

Although there are no resistant cereal varieties on the market, researchers have already made the most resistant material available to all the breeders in Australia.

UWA associate professor Guijun Yan is leading the research team and said developing markers would speed up the selection process.

"To speed up the process we have screened more than 2400 wheat genotypes and more than 1000 barley genotypes," he said.

"The control of the disease is located on a specific chromosome called 3B and the French group (National Institute for Agricultural Research) are the most advanced in the world in sequencing that.

"They know where the genes are and they are going to sequence the whole chromosome."

Dr Yan estimated more than half of the $80 million loss to industry caused by crown rot occurred in WA.

He said by the end of the $1.2 million, four-year project, researchers hoped to be able to show growers the locally adapted resistance genotypes.

"We're also looking at the mechanism of how resistance works to better understand not only this disease, but others," he said.

"We're at the forefront of studying this disease and once we have proved the concept of the approach, then we can use this approach for any other disease resistance work."

Significantly, the research will indirectly aid in combating head blight, which is also caused by the Fusarium pathogen.

The resistance gene to head blight is also in the 3B chromosome and so when researchers sequence the chromosome for crown rot, they may also be able to shed some light on where the gene for head blight resistance is located.

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