Scientists have pinpointed two genes that protect wheat against devastating fungal diseases found worldwide, international researchers reported Feb. 19.
Research published in the journal Science showed how the genes provide resistance to leaf rust, stripe rust and powdery mildew.
“Improving control of fungal rust diseases in cereals through breeding varieties with durable rust resistance is critical for world food security,” Simon Krattinger of the Institute of Plant Biology in Zurich wrote in one of the studies.
Krattinger and his team isolated a gene called Lr34 using a resistant wheat line, knocking out genes until they found the one that offered protection.
Other resistance genes only offer short-term protection because diseases mutate and find new ways to attack a plant. But the Lr34 gene is different because it is far more durable, Krattinger said.
“The gene has been active for more than 50 years,” he said in a telephone interview. “Breeders knew certain plants offered resistance but they didn’t know what the gene was or how it worked.”
In the second study, Cristobal Uauy of the John Innes Centre in Britain and colleagues identified a gene called Yr36 found in wild wheat but absent in modern varieties. The gene confers resistance to stripe rust.