University of Western Australia instigates disease-resistant canola crops

The West Australian
Blackleg, a disease-causing fungus that can wipe out crops, is a serious problem for canola growers, with an average of 10 per cent yield loss per year.
Camera IconBlackleg, a disease-causing fungus that can wipe out crops, is a serious problem for canola growers, with an average of 10 per cent yield loss per year. Credit: UWA

WA researchers have developed tools to identify plant genes resistance to disease-causing fungi and deploy them to create more resistant crops.

The discovery is hoped to lead to more productive harvests and reduce the need for farmers to apply fungicide to canola crops.

The University of WA researchers, from the campus’ Batley Lab, set out to investigate the evolution of the resistance genes against blackleg.

They hoped to develop a durable resistance mechanism to the disease for breeders and farmers.

UWA School of Agriculture professor Jacqueline Batley, the lead author, said the team had used genome sequencing to develop a screening platform.

It can identify the genes that underlay the resistance against blackleg in canola plants.

She said having a better understanding of plants’ resistance genes, and identifying how they interact with pathogens, would make it possible to improve economic outcomes.

“There is a global need for sustainable food production and to reduce the use of chemicals on the land with less economic loss,” she said.

“We need to make sure that we have sources of resistance across all plant species so that we have enough food on our table in the future as the population grows.”

Blackleg, a disease-causing fungus that can wipe out crops, is a serious problem for canola growers, with an average of 10 per cent yield loss per year.

The resistance genes can then be deployed in breeding programs to protect canola crops nationwide.

Professor Batley said the disease resistance research could be expanded to different species.

“Once you can understand the DNA, identify the genes and look at what’s causing certain traits, you can apply this to other species,” she said.

This work was undertaken in collaboration with researchers at the University of Melbourne.

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