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A new approach to reduce the risk of take-all disease

Visit  Rothamsted Research website

24 March 2011

The soil dwelling fungus 'take-all' inflicts devastating stress to the roots of cereals crops worldwide and is a major disease problem in UK wheat crops. However, recent field trial data from Rothamsted Research, an institute of BBSRC, has demonstrated that farmers could control this devastating disease by selecting wheat cultivars that reduce take-all build up in the soil when grown as a first wheat.

Wheat an important staple crop and is worth £1.6Bn a year to the UK economy alone. This work funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) will help farmers to increase yields, combating global food security and contributing to UK economic growth.

Take-all disease, caused by the fungus, Gaeumannomyces graminis var. tritici, reduces grain yield and quality and results in an increased amount of residual applied nitrogen fertiliser left in the soil post-harvest. Despite the use of chemical, biological and cultural control methods the take-all fungus is still one of the most difficult pathogens of wheat to control. The risk of take-all infection in second and third wheat crops is directly linked to the amount of fungus remaining in the soil after the first wheat is harvested.

The Rothamsted Research study, published in Plant Pathology, has demonstrated that wheat cultivars differ in their ability to build-up the take-all fungus and that growing a low building cultivar, such as Cadenza, as a first wheat crop can be used to manipulate take-all inoculum levels in the soil resulting in better yields from the second and third wheat crops. Yield increases of up to 2 tonnes per hectare have been observed.

Professor Kim Hammond-Kosack said, "This low take-all inoculum build-up (LowTAB) trait was previously unknown to wheat breeders. We are hopeful that this discovery can be commercially exploited because our genetic analyses have indicated two chromosomal locations which may be responsible for the control of the LowTAB trait." In summary, this novel discovery potentially provides the first genetic solution to the control of take-all.

Vanessa McMillan, a PhD student at Rothamsted sponsored by HGCA and BBSRC, who has been investigating the phenomenon of inoculum build-up under different wheat cultivars, said, "initial results suggest this trait is also present in some of the current National and HGCA Recommended cultivar list."

A new project to exploit this knowledge will track this trait in current and future wheat cultivars and should help farmers and farm advisors to reduce the risk of take-all by selecting a Low TAB first wheat cultivar when deciding to grow consecutive wheat crops. This project will be funded by the Technology Strategy Board and BBSRC as part of a new initiative called 'New Approaches to Crop Protection'.

Further field and molecular work on this trait is ongoing within the defra funded Wheat Genetic Improvement Network (WGIN; ).


Notes to editors

This study is published as 'Evidence that wheat cultivars differ in their ability to build up inoculum of the take-all fungus, Gaeumannomyces graminis var. tritici, under a first wheat crop' by V. E. McMillan, K. E. Hammond-Kosack and R. J. Gutteridge. Plant Pathology, DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-3059.2010.02375.x.

About WGIN

WGIN is funded by defra. It aims to improve the environmental footprint of farming through crop genetics and targeted traits analysis. For more information visit .

About Rothamsted Research

Rothamsted Research is based in Hertfordshire and is one of the largest agricultural research institutes in the country. The mission of Rothamsted Research is to be recognised internationally as a primary source of first-class scientific research and new knowledge that addresses stakeholder requirements for innovative policies, products and practices to enhance the economic, environmental and societal value of agricultural land. The Applied Crop Science department is based at Broom's Barn, Higham, Bury St. Edmunds. The North Wyke site is located near Okehampton in Devon and focuses on grassland research. For further information see external contact below.

About HGCA

HGCA is the cereals division of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB). HGCA aims to deliver a world class arable industry through independence, innovation and investment. It funds research, knowledge transfer, marketing, export and promotional activities for the cereals and oilseeds sector in the UK. Find out more at .

As part of its investment in arable research, HGCA currently funds 24 PhD projects.

For more information on these, or other HGCA-funded research projects contact the HGCA Communications team on 024 7647 8756 or email:

About the Technology Strategy Board

The Technology Strategy Board is a business-led government body which works to create economic growth by ensuring that the UK is a global leader in innovation. Sponsored by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), the Technology Strategy Board brings together business, research and the public sector, supporting and accelerating the development of innovative products and services to meet market needs, tackle major societal challenges and help build the future economy. For more information please visit

The new project referred to above will be funded by the Technology Strategy Board and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) as part of a new initiative called 'New Approaches to Crop Protection'. The project is entitled 'Protecting Second Wheat through the Reduction of Take-All Inoculum Build Up', acronym LowTAB, done in collaboration with three UK based wheat breeding companies, aims to identify and track the presence of this newly discovered trait in the pedigrees of the current elite wheat breeding germplasm pool used by the UK breeders.

About the Biosciences KTN

A Technology Strategy Board network serving the agriculture, food and industrial bioscience sectors. Its role is to connect and catalyse collaborations and new investments that will exploit challenge-led and technology-inspired opportunities for wealth creation through innovation in technology-enabled products and processes. For more information contact David Telford:


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.

Dr Jane Ward, Rothamsted Research

Professor Mike Beale, Rothamsted Research

Dr Adélia de Paula, Rothamsted Research Press Office

tel: 01582 763133 ext 2260