Tapping into grower’s knowledge to develop biocontrol options for wheat root diseases

CSIRO Agriculture’s Louise Thatcher, Cathryn O’Sullivan and Cindy Myers investigating bacteria activity in the glasshouse trials.

Wheat c.v. Wyalkatchem showing the effectiveness of one of the bacterial biocontrol agents against Fusarium Crown Rot. The seedling on the left is healthy. The seedling on the right is infected with Fusarium crown rot. The seedling in the centre has been treated with the biocontrol bacteria as a seed coat before being infected with Fusarium Crown Rot.

CSIRO researchers are using farmers’ knowledge of crop performance on their properties to develop novel biocontrol products to protect wheat and canola from fungal root diseases.

Dr Margaret Roper from CSIRO Agriculture approached farmers from across the wheatbelt of WA for help in sourcing a collection of soil bacteria that boost plant growth and provide protection from disease.

The farmers who took part in the survey pointed out areas of their properties that always seemed to produce good yields and low levels of disease. Margaret and her team collected wheat plants from these areas and isolated the bacteria that were living within their roots. After a decade of research they now have a collection of more than 50 different bacterial cultures including some that can boost plant growth and suppress disease. Laboratory and glasshouse trials have identified several bacteria that are highly effective at combatting intractable diseases like Fusarium crown rot of wheat, Rhizoctonia bare patch, Pythium root rot and Take all.

The bacteria are ideally suited for use in developing biocontrol agents because they could be delivered as a seed coat and they take up residence in the plant roots so they do not need to compete with the general soil microbial community to survive.

They also survive well in the soil because they form resilient spores that protect them from harsh conditions like drying and high temperatures.

Now that several bacteria that can inhibit the growth of fungal pathogens have been identified, the next stage of the project is field scale testing of the effectiveness of the biocontrol agents for suppressing Fusarium crown rot in a wheat crop. At the same time the potential of the bacteria to treat other fungal diseases like Sclerotinia stem rot and blackleg in canola is being explored.

This research was co-funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation and CSIRO.

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