Scientists explore genetics to halt spread of Ug99
The leaves and stems of a healthy crop, just weeks away from harvest, can become infected with red blister-like pustules and turn into a tangle of black stems and shrivelled grains. Yield losses of 70 per cent or more are possible, with the biggest losses in small scale subsistence farming.
“Over the next three years we aim to identify the genes that make Sharon goatgrass able to stand up to Ug99,” said Dr Brande Wulff.
“The ultimate step, four or five years from now, is to isolate these genes, take them out with the molecular tweezers and put them into locally-adapted high-yielding bread wheat.”
One of the defining differences of this research is that the scientists plan to clone not just one new resistance gene, but several, and put them together in one package. As a backup, they will continue to clone more genes. As they learn more about the pathogen they will be able to mix and match genes in combinations that are even more likely to provide durable resistance.
“We hope to create a formidable obstacle to the pathogen,” said Dr Wulff.
The research is funded by The Gatsby Charitable Foundation, The Two Blades Foundation, The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Capacity and Capability Challenge (CCC) fund from The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC).
Researchers at the John Innes Centre, also on the Norwich Research Park, are investigating other emerging pests and diseases that could be exacerbated by climate change. Dr Saskia Hogenhout is studying small bacteria called phytoplasmas that are transmitted by insects to infect crops including potato, oilseed rape, carrots and lettuce.
Dr Vinod Kumar is studying the fundamental mechanisms that govern interactions between plants, pathogens and climate, focusing on variations in temperature. By improving our fundamental understanding, his research team hope to be able to develop climate-resilient resistance to crop diseases such as blackleg disease of brassicas.