Researchers backed to map Ug99-resistant genes

Genes that can provide resistance to the virulent Ug99 strain of wheat stem rust are expected to be mapped for future use in wheat in Canada and elsewhere, through new federal funding.

The federal government on Wednesday pledged another $1.26 million for researchers led by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Dr. Tom Fetch in Winnipeg.

The AAFC team, including geneticists, pathologists and plant breeders from research centres across the country, has identified three genes providing resistance to Ug99. Molecular markers are being developed, AAFC said in a release.

“This additional funding will help scientists discover and genetically map these sources of resistance in the fight against the disease,” AAFC said, noting the team’s work was backed with $13 million in funding in 2009.

“The goal is to incorporate resistance to Ug99 into Canadian wheat lines and ensure that new cultivars have at least two effective resistant genes to help prevent rust pathogens from adapting to the resistance.”

Ug99, first discovered in Uganda in 1999, has spread slowly across east Africa; newer variants turned up in 2006 in crops in Yemen heading north into Sudan. The disease is now expected to spread to Egypt, Turkey, the Middle East and on to India, AAFC said.

Ug99 isn’t yet present in North America and it’s estimated 90 per cent of the world’s wheat varieties, including those grown in Canada, are rated susceptible.

“Should (Ug99) become established in Canada it would devastate the Canadian cereals sector, a situation that had serious economic consequences for Canada during previous cereal rust outbreaks in the last century,” AAFC said, noting a stem rust outbreak that wiped out about 40 per cent of Canada’s spring wheat crop in 1954.

Through “co-ordinated crossbreeding efforts,” AAFC said, researchers are now expected to be able to speed up the replacement of susceptible varieties with new varieties that are both higher-yielding and “durably resistant” to Ug99.

The AAFC team also takes part in international efforts against Ug99, such as the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative, the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat (DRRW) project and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT).

The Canadian government has provided seed of the resistant lines to wheat breeders at CIMMYT to develop improved local varieties in affected areas, and in developing countries that are most at risk, AAFC said.

The 2009 funding, AAFC said, helped support a “major breakthrough” in the successful identification of genes with high levels of resistance, and the development of molecular markers for use in wheat breeding.

That funding went toward research support, salaries of federal researchers dedicated to the project, and for infrastructure, AAFC said. — Network

Related stories:
First fusarium-resistant spring wheat in pipeline, April 9, 2013
Cereal Research Centre axed, April 20, 2012

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