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Eyespot breakthrough welcomed

29 November 2010

Researchers at the John Innes Centre, an Institute of BBSRC, are working with plant breeders to understand more about the economically important fungal disease, eyespot and identify novel sources of genetic resistance to the disease that could be used to protect our cereal crops.

Eyespot is a fungal disease of cereals, affecting the stem base and causing large yield losses, making it economically important, especially in areas such as North West Europe and North West USA where mild damp autumns are ideal for its growth. Chemical control using fungicides, as well as being environmentally unsound, is often not cost effective for farmers, so crop varieties with higher levels of resistance are needed to help combat this disease.

Dr Paul Nicholson, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, has been working with the Home-Grown Cereals Authority (HGCA) and the plant breeding company RAGT Seeds, through a CASE studentship awarded to Chris Burt, to understand the disease and identify new sources of resistance.

Very little variation in genetic resistance to eyespot exists in commercially-grown wheat varieties. In most instances, any moderate resistance in varieties was thought to derive from a single gene, Pch2, bred in from a French wheat, Cappelle Desprez in the 1950s.

Eyespot is caused by two different, co-existing fungal species, Oculimacula yallundae and Oculimacula acuformis, and recent research from the John Innes Centre is now suggesting that the resistance derived from Pch2 is differentially effective against the two species. Publishing in the journal Plant Pathology, Dr Paul Nicholson and his group have shown that the Pch2 gene is significantly less effective against O. yallundae than against O. acuformis.

"In all probability this resistance is not, as previously supposed, responsible for the partial resistance observed in many varieties," said Dr Nicholson. "We have now characterised a source of genetic resistance that is effective against both eyespot pathogens, and it is this, rather than Pch2, that we believe confers the partial protection observed in moderately eyespot-resistant commercial wheat varieties."

The group looked at a second reported component of the resistance in Cappelle Desprez, but on a different chromosome to the Pch2 gene. Publishing in the journal Theoretical and Applied Genetics they found that this confers significant resistance to both eyespot pathogens, and at both the seedling and adult stage, making it much more effective than Pch2 alone.

"Breeders thought that they were working with Pch2 while, in fact, if they had moderate eyespot resistance it was most probably coming from this other gene in Cappelle Desprez," said Dr Nicholson.

"This suggests that using Pch2 as the sole source of genetic resistance may not provide adequate protection against eyespot where the predominant cause of eyespot is O. yallundae. Currently, in the UK, O. acuformis predominates but there is evidence that a shift in the type of fungicide used may be reducing this prevalence in favour of O. yallundae."

"In the search for genetic resistance against eyespot, it is going to be critical that we test any potential candidates for resistance against both species."

The group have found nearby genetic markers, which can be used by plant breeders to breed this resistance into commercial wheat varieties.

"This is an excellent example of applied research translating benefits all the way from lab bench through breeder hands and into farmer's fields," noted Peter Jack, cereal genotyping lead at RAGT Seeds. "It also prepares the ground for improvements in fundamental knowledge of plant-pathogen interactions and more generic benefits for a wide range of pathogen species."

Sarah Holdgate, lead cereal Pathologist for RAGT Seeds, added: "although eyespot is a globally important fungal pathogen, conventional approaches to the identification of resistant lines are time consuming and costly. This research, through dissection of resistance components and identification of linked markers, will clearly facilitate breeding of naturally resistant varieties."

"This is a very good example where coordination between funding bodies, BBSRC and HGCA, has enabled breeders to work directly with public sector researchers to tackle an important yield impacting trait," commented Richard Summers, R & D chairman of the British Society of Plant Breeders (BSPB) and cereal breeding lead, RAGT Seeds. "This is a model we would like to see develop further."

ENDS

Notes to editors

Reference: Differential seedling resistance to the eyespot pathogens, Oculimacula yallundae and Oculimacula acuformis, conferred by Pch2 in wheat and among accessions of Triticum monococcum, C. Burt Plant Pathology (2010) 59, 819-828 Doi: 10.1111/j.1365-3059.2010.02307.x

Identification of a QTL conferring seedling and adult plant resistance to eyespot on chromosome 5A of Cappelle Desprez C. Burt, et al,, Theoretical and Applied Genetics (2010) DOI: 10.1007/s00122-010-1427-1

Collaboration: RAGT Seeds Ltd

Funding: BBSRC and the Home Grown Cereals Authority (HGCA) through a BBSRC-CASE award

Chris Burt has been studying eyespot on a CASE studentship in Dr Paul Nicholson's group at the John Innes Centre. Collaborative Awards in Science and Engineering (CASE) allow students to receive high quality research training in collaboration with an industrial partner. Chris's CASE studentship was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Home Grown Cereals Authority (HGCA), and involved working with RAGT Seeds.

About BBSRC

BBSRC is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £470M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life in the UK and beyond and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders, including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

BBSRC provides institute strategic research grants to the following:

  • The Babraham Institute
  • Institute for Animal Health
  • Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (Aberystwyth University)
  • Institute of Food Research
  • John Innes Centre
  • The Genome Analysis Centre
  • The Roslin Institute (University of Edinburgh)
  • Rothamsted Research

The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.