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How wheat can root out the 'take-all' fungus

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News from: Rothamsted Research

Natural use of biology to control disease in crops is the Holy Grail of agriculture, and a team of young researchers has now pinpointed a way of easing cereals’ risks from a deadly root pathogen.

In the soils of the world’s cereal fields, a family tussle between related species of fungi is underway for control of the crops’ roots, with food security threatened if the wrong side wins. Beneficial fungi can help plants to protect themselves from cousins eager to overwhelm the roots, but it’s a closely fought battle.

‘Take-all’ is a devastating root disease of cereal crops worldwide caused by the fungal pathogen, Gaeumannomyces tritici. Related species, notably G. hyphopodioides, are capable of immunising plant roots against the pathogen. Farmers struggle to control the disease because few chemical seed treatments are available, and current biological strategies are hindered by the variety of soil types.

But now a young team of scientists from Rothamsted Research, funded by BBSRC, has come up with some answers. Their complete findings are published today in the Journal of Experimental Botany.

The team collected samples of the beneficial fungus from the fields of Rothamsted Farm and developed a laboratory test to explore their ability to colonise and protect the roots of barley, rye, wheat and the rye/wheat hybrid, triticale. In field trials, the team identified commercial cereal varieties that performed better than others.

“The future of take-all control cannot rely upon a single solution to combat the disease,” says Sarah-Jane Osborne, whose PhD in crop pathology focused on this research. “The results of our study show that certain current winter wheat varieties can strongly support naturally occurring populations of take-all suppressing fungi.”

Simon Oxley, Senior Scientist at AHDB, said: “Sarah-Jane’s research is a step forward in understanding the complex relationship between variety, pathogen and potentially beneficial root colonising fungi. I can foresee a time when growers will be able to select varieties that combine positive characteristics to minimise the damaging effect of this disease, thus contributing to the sustainability of crop production.”

Rothamsted’s take-all research group, led by McMillan, is part of one of the institute’s five strategic programmes, namely Designing Future Wheat, a multi-institute initiative that focuses specifically on improving overall crop value and resilience. It is funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

ENDS

Notes to editors

Publication: Osborne et al, 2018, Journal of Experimental Botany, Elite UK winter wheat cultivars differ in their ability to support the colonization of beneficial root-infecting fungi. DOI: 10.1093/jxb/ery136.

About BBSRC

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.

BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

Funded by government, BBSRC invested £469 million in world-class bioscience in 2016-17. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

More information about UK Research and Innovation.
More information about BBSRC, our science and our impact.
More information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes.

About Rothamsted Research

Rothamsted Research is the longest-running agricultural research institute in the world. We work from gene to field with a proud history of ground-breaking discoveries, from crop treatment to crop protection, from statistical interpretation to soils management. Our founders, in 1843, were the pioneers of modern agriculture, and we are known for our imaginative science and our collaborative influence on fresh thinking and farming practices.

Through independent science and innovation, we make significant contributions to improving agri-food systems in the UK and internationally. In terms of the institute’s economic contribution, the cumulative impact of our work in the UK was calculated to exceed £3000 million a year in 2015 (Rothamsted Research and the Value of Excellence: A synthesis of the available evidence, by Séan Rickard). Our strength lies in our systems approach, which combines science and strategic research, interdisciplinary teams and partnerships.

Rothamsted is also home to three unique resources. These National Capabilities are open to researchers from all over the world: The Long-Term Experiments, Rothamsted Insect Survey and the North Wyke Farm Platform.

We are strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), with additional support from other national and international funding streams, and from industry. We are also supported by the Lawes Agricultural Trust (LAT).

Follow Rothamsted Research on Twitter: @Rothamsted.


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