Strategies for integrated deployment of host resistance and fungicides to sustain effective crop protection.

Lead Research Organisation: SRUC
Department Name: Research


Sustainable crop protection is of key importance to food security and to ensure that crops make efficient use of resources (land, nitrogen and water). Fungicides and resistant cultivars are the predominant control measures against most crop diseases. However, control imposes a selection pressure on pathogen populations, leading to the evolution of pathogen strains which are less sensitive to the fungicides used or which are able to overcome host resistance (virulent pathogen strains). For example, potato late blight, caused by Phytophthora infestans, is managed by fungicide spray programmes, complemented by partial host resistance in some potato cultivars. Recently the pathogen population has changed: a loss of field efficacy of fluazinam (a widely used fungicide) has been reported, and new virulences have evolved, resulting in downgrading of cultivar resistance ratings.

Integrated control, where two or more control measures are applied, is widely believed to be more sustainable than over-reliance on one control option. There is however surprisingly little mechanistic understanding of the effects on pathogen evolution of combining deployment of fungicides and crop resistance genes. The evolution of fungicide insensitivity and the evolution of virulence are studied in isolation, despite a strong rationale for their being interactions between the two processes. New virulent or resistant strains gain a competitive advantage over existing 'wild-type' strains because they are able to grow more rapidly than wild-type strains in the presence of the control measure that they are able to overcome. However, epidemics of a new virulent strain will still be slowed by fungicides, thus reducing its competitive advantage. Hence, fungicides may slow selection for virulence and, by a similar process, cultivar resistance may slow selection for fungicide insensitivity.

The following hypotheses will be tested:
H1: Deployment of crop resistance reduces selection for fungicide insensitivity.
H2: Deployment of fungicides reduces selection for virulence.
H3: How crop resistance genes and fungicides are integrated is a key determinant of the durability of control.

Outcomes: The project will use experimental and modelling approaches to quantify the durability of disease control strategies integrating fungicide treatments and cultivar resistance. The directly applied outcome of the project is a fungicide and cultivar resistance based strategy for potato blight to be implemented through the Potato Council and industry partners. The further outcomes are generic methods to develop, parameterise and validate models that can be used to quantify integrated sustainable disease control strategies for pathogen-crop systems.

This work is made possible by recent progress in two areas. Firstly, changes in virulence in a range of pathogen species have been shown to be related to well characterised mutations in 'effector genes'. Testing for these mutations allows the proportion of virulent strains to be quantified in field experiments. Treatments can then be compared to measure the extent to which they affect selection for new strains. Fungicide insensitive strains can be tracked by similar methods. Secondly, epidemiological models have been tested against experimental data and found to give good predictions of the effect of fungicide treatments on selection for insensitive strains. Similar models have been developed to represent virulence evolution and it is now feasible to couple these two types of model to study the effects of integrated control.

Field experiments will generate epidemiological data and pathogen samples. The samples will be tested to quantify changes in the frequency of virulent and insensitive strains, under different treatments, to test hypotheses 1 and 2. The resulting data will be used to test a coupled mathematical model, which will then be used to explore integrated disease management strategies under hypothesis 3.

Technical Summary

An epidemiological model will be developed that integrates the action of fungicides and cultivar resistance against a plant disease, when the pathogen is concurrently evolving insensitivity to the fungicide and virulence to overcome cultivar resistance.

We have previously gathered experimental data sets to validate/test our models for fungicide resistance evolution. Such testing had not been reported previously. The proposed project will allow us to gather data to validate our cultivar resistance/virulence model. This will be the first test of such a model in the scientific literature. The collection of a sufficiently large and detailed data set is enabled by expertise at the James Hutton Institute on the molecular biology of effector genes. This enables the quantification of selection for virulence in pathogen samples from field experiments, using PCR type techniques to track inoculated virulent and avirulent strains.

A set of experiments, on the pathogen Phytophthora infestans (causal organism of potato late blight) will test the hypothesis that cultivar resistance reduces selection for fungicide resistance. A second set of experiments will test the hypothesis that fungicide treatment slows evolution of virulence against cultivar resistance. The tested model will then be used to explore the dynamics of the effect of fungicides on the evolution of virulence, and the effect of the use of cultivar resistance on the evolution of fungicide insensitivity. Epidemiological phenotypes for host resistance and fungicide action, which are effective at constraining evolution, will be identified. Finally we will explore the combined deployment of the two crop protection methods to develop disease control strategies that are durable. These strategies for the durable control of potato blight should help to inform industry, via knowledge transfer pathways described in the impact plan.

Planned Impact

The research will develop strategies for the durable control of potato blight through integrated use of fungicides and cultivar resistance. New insights arising from the project will generate messages for industry and revised guidance. Messages are likely to include, for example: (i) the extent to which the current balance between genetic and chemical control is appropriate to maximise durability of control, (ii) the epidemiological phenotypes of host resistance (e.g. whether the resistance predominantly reduces foliar infection, sporulation or tuber infection) which are most effective at slowing selection for insensitivity, (iii) the effects of deploying cultivars each with different resistance genes, compared against pyramiding genes, and (iv) the evolutionary effect of altering fungicide dose, according to the host resistance of cultivars. These messages will be exploited through existing mechanisms of communication by the Potato Council, the industry partners, and the Fungicide Resistance Action Group (FRAG). Messages will be presented to the wider stakeholder group through roadshows and demonstrations/posters at grower events, and at a European scale through the EuroBlight network ( These approaches to ensure impact have been used successfully by the project group in previous and on-going work.

Identification of outputs: The work in Objective 4 will lead to the outputs relevant to potato growers, agronomists, the crop protection industry and plant breeders. Starting in year 2 we will organise meetings of the investigators and project partners aimed at forming practical messages. At least three such meetings will be organised during the project. During these meetings we will also initiate the various activities for the 'application and exploitation' of outputs as described below.

Application and exploitation of the outputs: Established routes to impact which have proved to be effective will be exploited in the project.

- The proposers will present their work at roadshows and grower events such as Potatoes in Practice, the East of England Potato Day, the Potato Council Winter Fora, the ADAS/Syngenta Potato Conference, the Bayer CropScience Potato Meeting and the SAC Blight Event. These events, together with wider horticultural events, will be used to present findings to all relevant sectors of industry.
- Key messages can be conveyed to growers and the industry in the Scottish Agricultural College's (SAC) Crop Protection Report.

- The Potato Council (PC) will help interpret research findings into messages and guidance which is appropriate for crop consultants and individual growers. PC will also disseminate project findings through their KT initiatives; for example by Growers Advice Sheets.

- FRAG representatives will be invited to the meetings aimed at developing advice on durable control of potato blight. The PC/FRAG publication "Potato late blight: Guidelines for managing fungicide resistance" should be updated.

- EuroBlight : The proposers contribute to the EuroBlight Network to disseminate findings from their research on potato blight. EuroBlight organises a pan-European 3-day workshop every 18 months. Results will be presented and discussed at the workshops in October 2014 and May 2016. Workshop presentations are written up for the proceedings and made freely available via the EuroBlight website.

- The industry partners will use their existing routes to disseminate information from the project to their stakeholders. The project team will offer to disseminate findings at demonstration sites of the industry partners. The project will offer new approaches to disease management that aim to extend the life of fungicide active ingredients and the durability of cultivar resistance.

The combination of these routes to application and exploitation guarantees an efficient route to direct impact of project findings into farming, crop protection and plant breeding industries.


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Carolan K (2017) Extending the durability of cultivar resistance by limiting epidemic growth rates. in Proceedings. Biological sciences

Description The research project 'Strategies for integrated deployment of host resistance and fungicides to sustain effective crop protection' comprised two component awards, i.e. the larger BB/K020900/1 (PI Frank van den Bosch) and BB/K020447/1 (PI Ruairidh Bain). The key findings for the research project were dependent on both component grants and can only be appreciated by checking those submitted for BB/K020900/1 also. It is difficult to separate out those that can be directly attributable to BB/K020447/1, however this has been attempted below.

Cultivar resistance is an essential part of disease control programmes in many agricultural systems. The use of resistant cultivars applies a selection pressure on pathogen populations for the evolution of virulence, resulting in loss of disease control. Various techniques for the deployment of host resistance genes have been proposed to reduce the selection for virulence, but these are often difficult to apply in practice. The project demonstrated a general technique to maintain the effectiveness of cultivar resistance. Stated very concisely, in general the project demonstrated that appropriate use of fungicides reduces selection for virulence, prolonging cultivar resistance (and vice versa). The project illustrated a general principle for the development of techniques to manage the evolution of virulence by slowing epidemic growth rates.

The objectives of BB/K020447/1 were met in that the award specifically led to: the practical demonstration that appropriate use of fungicides reduces selection for virulence in Phytophthora infestans, the potato late blight pathogen; the development of a field experiment methodology to monitor the impact of fungicide use on the selection of virulence (or the impact of cultivar resistance on the selection for fungicide insensitivity) in a mixed population of P. infestans. However, in the field experiments there was sometimes an unexpectedly large, season-dependent influence of weather parameters on the relative development of the two pathogen isolates in the mixed inoculum. This led to only some of the field experiments yielding robust results.

To date one peer-reviewed paper has been published: Carolan, K., Helps, J., Van Den Berg, F., Bain, R., Paveley, N., van den Bosch, F. (2017). Extending the durability of cultivar resistance by limiting epidemic growth rates. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 284(1863) : pp. 1-8 doi: 10.1098/rspb.2017.0828. Further peer-reviewed publications are in preparation. The publications utilise output from both BB/K020900/1 and BB/K020447/1.
Exploitation Route The control of late potato blight worldwide has relied too heavily on the use of highly effective and relatively inexpensive fungicides. The findings of the project are being used to support a switch to Integrated Crop Management of late blight, with a revision to the balance ion contribution to control for host resistance and fungicides. This goal is a medium to long term one and therefore currently the findings are supporting this switch through presentation at KE events in the UK and Europe. The findings will also have a wider, global impact through peer-reviewed papers.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

Description The control of potato late blight worldwide has relied too much on the use of highly effective and relatively inexpensive fungicides. The findings from the project are being utilised to support a switch to Integrated Crop Management for late blight that is considerably more sustainable (specifically in terms of the medium to long term protection against erosion of host resistance genes and fungicide efficacy). This medium- to long-term goal is initially being supported through the project findings being communicated at KE events in the UK and Europe.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment
Impact Types Economic,Policy & public services

Description AHDB Potato Council Studentship Scheme
Amount £67,650 (GBP)
Organisation Agricultural and Horticulture Development Board 
Department Potato Council
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2014 
End 09/2017
Title P. i. genotypes and weather HAPI 2015 2016 
Description Currently there is no proven explanation for differences in the relative frequencies of different P. infestans genotypes in different years in the UK. Such differences do impact on blight control. Investigation of this was not the aim of the current project but the HAPI field trials in Scotland and Wales in 2015 and 2016 have produced a valuable dataset than could be used to further understanding of inter-genotype competition during the growing season, especially in relation to environmental variables. The database contains meteorological, cultivar, P. i. genotype data for 15 experiments (two countries, multiple sites, 2 years). 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Too early yet 
Description HAPI to Nov 2014 Collaboration 
Organisation James Hutton Institute
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Supervisor of and technical support to PhD student
Collaborator Contribution Joint suoervision of PhD student
Impact Not applicable this year
Start Year 2014
Description Integrated Crop Management for potato late blight 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Integrated Crop Management (ICM) for potato late blight. A confidential briefing document for AHDB Potatoes.
1. Dr Faye Ritchie, ADAS; Dr Ruairidh Bain, SRUC; Dr Neil Paveley, ADAS
2. Kyran Maloney, SRUC

This briefing document included a detailed elaboration of the key findings of the project BB/K020447/1.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Poster at EAPR Triennial Conference 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Kevin Carolan, Ruairidh Bain, Alison Lees, David Cooke, Faye Ritchie,
Neil Paveley, Frank van den Bosch (2016). Strategies for the integrated deployment of plant resistance and fungicide use to sustain effective crop protection. Poster at the European Association for Potato Research (EAPR) conference 2016, 7 - 11 August, Dundee.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description Presentation of technical poster at EuroBlight Workshop in Aarhus, Denmark 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Carolan K, Bain RA, Lees A, Cooke DEL, Ritchie F, Paveley N, van den Bosch F (2017). To make cultivar resistance durable spray fungicide. Proceedings of the 16th EuroBlight Workshop. PAGV Special Report No. 18:237.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017