Australia makes breakthrough in breeding disease-resistant crops

Canberra, Feb 27 (Representative) Scientists from Australia’s national science agency have made a breakthrough in breeding disease-resistant crops. In research published by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) on Tuesday, scientists revealed they have developed advanced screening technology capable of detecting genes that suppress plant immune responses at unprecedented speed. Peter Dodds, co-lead of the project from the CSIRO, said the breakthrough would have major implications for the future development of pathogen-resistant crops. Plant pathogens cause plant diseases, reducing crop yield. Rust pathogens, which stunt plant growth and damage leaves and branches, cost 1 billion U.S. dollars in crop losses every year globally, according to the CSIRO. By identifying avirulence (Avr) effector genes, the new CSIRO technology can help plants prevent widespread infection.

Effector genes encode proteins that suppress a plant’s immune response to a pathogen. However, if a plant recognises the pathogen protein, it can activate defence mechanisms. Dodds said the technology has enabled new genetic strategies to protect crops in Australia and abroad. “This technology positions CSIRO to tackle important biosecurity challenges as climate change increases risks for disease outbreaks,” he said in a media release. “We have been able to identify several new fungal Avr effector genes in the wheat stem rust pathogen, reducing the time from years or even decades to mere months.” A report published by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Forestry (DAFF) in September 2018 found that an untreated wheat stem rust infection could reduce a crop’s grain yield by 90 percent. A major outbreak in south-eastern Australia in 1973 reduced the value of the country’s wheat production by up to 35 percent, the report said. It was estimated that a modern-day Australia-wide outbreak of wheat stem rust would cost 1.36 billion Australian dollars (889.3 million U.S. dollars) over a 10-year period.