Scientists identify genes in septoria defence front line

PROSPECTS for controlling septoria tritici in the future have been boosted with the news researchers at Rothamsted Research have identified genes with the potential to prevent development of the disease in wheat.

Using modern biotechnology methods scientists have identified two wheat genes whose functions are to activate the wheat defence response. This finding can now pave the way to developing molecular approaches to combat the disease in the future, it is claimed.

Dr Kostya Kanyuka, lead researcher at Rothamsted, says: “We are very excited about the findings of this study. To identify the exact role of the two candidate wheat genes we had to temporarily inhibit their function and investigate whether the pathogens can be successful or not in causing disease in the silenced plants.”

Prof Kim Hammond-Kosack, of Rothamsted Research, says: “There is a long symptomless infection phase of between seven to 14 days, which is followed by rapid deterioration of the leaf tissue. This life cycle of the disease makes it difficult to identify and apply curative control methods before it is too late for the crop. Having identified the molecules which are involved in this interaction in wheat we can now think of different ways that we can develop to detect the presence of the pathogen and to stop symptoms arising before the effect of the disease on crop performance is too costly for farmers”.

Three key genes

Dr Jason Rudd, of Rothamsted says: “This work has identified two genes which are already present in wheat which are perfectly able to provide resistance against septoria tritici. The remaining problem, and the reason why they currently don’t do this in the field, resides in the fact the fungus contains a single gene which prevents the two wheat genes from functioning. On this basis it is extraordinary that only three genes in total, two from wheat and one from the fungus, can decide the outcome of the interaction.

“Their identification opens the way to future biotechnological approaches which could be used to either enhance [for wheat genes] or inhibit [for the pathogen gene] their functions to favour the disease-free plant.”

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