Protecting our crops: staying ahead of rust

Rust-affected wheat seedlings. Photographer: Carl Davies on June 08 2006

Rust-affected wheat seedlings. Powerful resistance genes have been located to tackle Stem Rust, the biggest disease threat to the Australian wheat industry. Four rust resistance genes have now been located and their DNA ‘markers’ identified by CSIRO Plant Industry. The four genes are being used to breed a super stem-rust-resistant wheat variety. Photographer : Carl Davies on June 08 2006.

Australian crops have been protected for the past 60 years by the breeding of rust-resistant crop varieties that inhibit the development of rust diseases. Rust pathogens, however, are very adaptable and can rapidly evolve into new strains that can infect previously rust-resistant plants.

CSIRO has been contributing to the global fight against rust, increasing our understanding of the interaction between the rust pathogen and the crops it attacks, and has helped provide the wheat industry with the means to accelerate the breeding of rust resistant wheat.

We have provided wheat breeders with more than 20 markers for rust resistance genes, helping the industry keep one step ahead of this costly disease by producing resistant wheat cultivars.

Isolation of the Lr67, Sr33 and Sr50 rust resistance genes, which confer resistance to multiple rust strains, is strengthening our arsenal. The Sr33 and Sr50 genes give the wheat plant the ability to recognise when it is being attacked by rust. They help wheat protect itself against a number of stem rust races, including the virulent Ug99 strains.

Lr67 on the other hand slows development of all three wheat rust pathogen species (stem, stripe and leaf) and powdery mildew.

Isolation of these important resistance genes is a great achievement, adding not only another layer of crop protection but also deepening our understanding of the molecular basis of resistance.

In order to maintain and grow an internationally competitive Australian agri-food and fibre sector and to support the global food security effort, the profitability and yield of agricultural systems must be increased. We are the largest Australian research organisation and have the national capability and global reach to bring the best and brightest together to find solutions to the grain industry’s future challenges.

This research is part of the Australian Cereal Rust Control Program and supported by the Grains Research and Development Corporation.

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