World food security is threatened by the spread of a serious wheat disease – and scientists at The University of Western Australia are leading an international team aiming to breed wheat that is resistant to the culprit – Fusarium crown rot (FCR).

FCR is widespread and chronic in the 11 million-hectare Australian wheat belt, costing nearly $80 million a year in lost production and quality. An Australian Research Council Linkage grant of almost $600,000 is funding the anti-FCR project.

Lead researcher Associate Professor Guijun Yan, who is Deputy Leader of the Plant Production Systems Program at UWA’s Institute of Agriculture, said the disease could be managed if resistant wheat varieties could be developed. No resistant varieties are yet available.

“To speed up the process, we have screened more than 2400 wheat genotypes and more than 1000 barley genotypes,” Associate Professor Yan said.

“We initially focussed on two of the best wheat and one of the best barley resistance sources, but found that resistance for each is mainly conditioned by a single locus, or chromosome region.

“We propose to develop DNA markers for marker-assisted breeding, to understand the genetic mechanism of resistance and to identify genes responsible for resistance to FCR infection in cereals.

“Fortunately, wheat chromosome 3B – the locus that conditions resistance – is the most advanced chromosome in physical mapping and genome sequencing in wheat.”

UWA’s partners in the research are CSIRO, InterGrain Pty Ltd, National Institute for Agricultural Research (France), and Shijiazhuang Academy of Agricultural and Forestry Sciences (China).