Researchers develop technology capable of increasing crop resistance to wheat rust

Publish: 7:15 PM, January 5, 2021 | Update: 7:15:PM, January 5, 2021

CANBERRA, – A team of researchers have developed crops with stronger resistance to potentially devastating “wheat rust.” The study was the result of an international collaboration between researchers from Australia’s national science agency Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), Xinjiang University, the University of Minnesota, Aarhus University, The John Innes Center and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In a study published on Tuesday, the team from CSIRO said they developed genetic technologies that stack five different wheat resistance genes on top of one another. Wheat rust is a fungal disease that can lead up to 20-percent yield loss. Mick Ayliffe, the lead researcher, said that building multiple layers of protection made it harder for rust to attack wheat crops.

“Our approach is like putting five locks on a door – you’re making it very difficult to get in,” he said in a statement. “Rigorous field testing showed that our gene stack approach provided complete protection against the rust pathogens we were targeting. “Successfully validating the effectiveness of our technology makes this approach an incredibly attractive opportunity to protect global grain crops.”

According to the CSIRO an outbreak of wheat rust in Australia would cost the industry 1.4 billion Australian dollars (1.07 billion U.S. dollars) over a decade. Ayliffe said the technology had focused only on stem rust but could be expanded to target stripe and leaf rust diseases. “One of the genes we selected actually protects against stem, leaf and stripe rust diseases, so it’s entirely possible to include genes that also work against other rust species,” he said.

“We don’t know the limits of this new gene stacking technology yet. We currently have an even larger genetic stack with eight resistance genes in the lab, so even more protection against rust is possible.”