Global effort to tackle wheat’s worst enemy
An international team led by Norwich Research Park scientists have been awarded a grant to tackle one of wheat’s worst enemies, yellow rust.
This is part of a unique £16M initiative, involving 40 international research organisations, which will harness bioscience to improve food security in developing countries.
The grants have been awarded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) under the Sustainable Crop Production Research for International Development (SCPRID) programme, a joint multi-national initiative of BBSRC and the UK Government’s Department for International Development (DFID), together with (through a grant awarded to BBSRC) the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), and the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) of India’s Ministry of Science and Technology.
Wheat is a staple crop across most of the developing world and globally provides about 20 per cent of the calories and proteins consumed by humans each day.
Wheat production needs to increase dramatically in coming years to meet the needs of a rapidly growing world population, but disease is a continuing threat to current and future yields. One of wheat’s worst enemies is ‘wheat yellow rust,’ a disease responsible for yield losses of up to 70 percent or complete crop loss if the disease occurs early in the growing season.
To overcome the devastating economic and environmental impact of yellow rust, breeders and scientists have developed wheat varieties resistant to the disease, but a general lack of understanding about how the yellow rust pathogen overcomes the plant’s resistance means that new varieties have not stayed resistant for long. This five-year project aims to tackle this.
The project is led by Dr Cristobal Uauy (photo) of the John Innes Centre, working with Dr Brande Wulff at the Sainsbury Laboratory and Dr Shawn McGuire from the University of East Anglia. The Genome Analysis Centre, also part of the Norwich Research Park, will carry out much of the sequencing. The consortium of researchers also includes scientists from Ethiopia, India, Kenya and Denmark, as well as the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB).
Using new DNA sequencing technologies and a variety of strains of wheat yellow rust from Africa, India and the UK, the researchers will sequence current and historical collections of yellow rust to understand how the disease has evolved over time and across continents. This new information at a DNA level will help identify wheat genes best able to resist the pathogen for longer, enabling new varieties of yellow rust resistant wheat to be bred, grown and harvested. Dr McGuire’s work will focus on the institutional challenges of linking disciplines and research groups in developing-country plant science.