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  • Writer's pictureFlow Australia

Screening research boosts disease resistance for crops

A gene-screening platform that can identify diseases within crops is set to boost agricultural productivity and security, the CSIRO says.

A supplied image obtained on Tuesday, February 27, 2024, of of a plant with Stem Rust disease, which poses a significant threat to the Australian wheat industry. Image AAP

Identifying new genes in plant pathogens and boosting security within crops is one step closer following a rapid screening platform developed by the CSIRO.

The rapid-gene screening platform can identify new avirulence (Avr) effector genes in plant pathogens, marking a technological leap in future pathogen-resistant crop developments.

Effector genes encode proteins that suppress plant immune responses and pathogens are organisms that cause plant diseases, greatly reducing agricultural productivity whilst being a threat to food security.

It is estimated rust pathogens alone contribute to crop losses of $A1.5 billion annually worldwide.

This gene-screening platform is a huge step in breeding durable diseases-resistant crops, the CSIRO's Dr Peter Dodds said.


"Our advanced screening technology represents a technological leap forward in our ability to study the processes that give plants enduring resistance to disease, enabling new genetic strategies to safeguard crop production and disease management in Australia and abroad," Dr Dodds said on Tuesday.

"This method enables high-throughput screening of complex genetic libraries in a plant's cellular environment at an unprecedented speed. 

"This enhances the ability to select more disease-resistant crops and aids efforts in pathogen surveillance."

Scientists have been able to identify several new fungal Avr effector genes in the wheat stem rust pathogen.

Dr Dodds said if the plant can recognise these pathogen proteins, a plant defence mechanism can be activated and stop widespread infection. 

"This technology positions CSIRO to tackle important biosecurity challenges as climate change increases risks for disease outbreaks," he said. 

Project co-lead, Dr Thomas Vanhercke said that while this study examined Avr genes in a rust fungus that affects wheat, the same technique can be applied to other crops and pathogens.  

The findings have been published in the scientific journal Nature Plants. 


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