RUSTFIGHT: Meeting the new challenges from infectious rust fungi on crop plants

Lead Research Organisation: John Innes Centre
Department Name: Contracts Office

Abstract

Yellow rust is caused by a biotrophic fungal pathogen of cereals and cultivated grasses. It is currently the most damaging disease on wheat, the world’s most cultivated agricultural crop. Along with the intensified wheat production in Denmark and elsewhere, the resulting losses have increased dramatically during the last decades. Short-term responses to rust epidemics depend on fungicide sprays. In contrast, long-term, sustainable solutions rely on a multidisciplinary approach that combines research of pathogen population genetics, pathogen-host interactions and breeding for reduced vulnerability to the disease. This project will investigate the complex interactions of pathogen virulence, aggressiveness, host resistance and temperature. We will assess key epidemiological parameters at the cellular and whole plant level, discover host-recognized fungal effectors and resistance genes, and investigate pathogen evolution at the genome and world-wide population level. We will identify the main drivers of yellow rust evolution and implement rapid early-warning systems to prevent epidemic situations. Identified effectors will serve in plant breeding as new, efficient identifiers of valuable rust resistance (R) genes. International genetic resources will be screened for R-genes and molecular markers linked to R-genes will be developed for marker-assisted selection. The specific outcomes will be implemented in Danish plant breeding and in agriculture at Danish and global levels, e.g., via web-based early-warning of rust epidemics and training of young scientists in rust pathology. This project creates a new network among expert researchers in molecular plant pathology, epidemiology, population genetics and bioinformatics. The project will benefit from established partnerships with CIMMYT and ICARDA,
leading international institutions that have a global mandate to improve crop productivity.

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