Preventing Head Blight in Barley, Wheat: Biochemical Pathways Hold Key to Resistance

Preventing Head Blight in Barley, Wheat: Biochemical Pathways Hold Key to Resistance

Despite major research funding, scientists have had only limited success in controlling fusarium head blight, a fungal disease that not only dramatically shrinks yields in wheat and barely, but produces toxins that make the grain dangerous for human or animal consumption. Using advanced genetic and molecular technologies, biologists have begun tracing the biochemical pathways that make wheat susceptible or resistant to head blight. The researchers believes the key to head blight resistance lies in its ability to block production of two key hormones.

via Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily:

Pale, shriveled heads of grain spell trouble for wheat and barley farmers — they’re the telltale signs of fusarium head blight. The fungal disease, commonly known as scab, not only dramatically shrinks yields but produces toxins that make the grain dangerous for human or animal consumption.From 1991 to 1996, head blight caused $2.6 billion in losses to the U.S. wheat crop. At its peak, the fungus destroyed the entire malting barley crop in the Red River and Ohio River Valleys, according to molecular biologist Yang Yen, an Agricultural Experiment Station researcher and professor at South Dakota State University.Two decades later the U.S. Department of Agriculture still ranks head blight as “the worst plant disease to hit the U.S. since the rust epidemics in the 1950s.” Wheat and barley farmers have lost more than $3 billion since 1990 from blight outbreaks.Despite major research funding — including the U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative, scientists admit that efforts to control this devastating disease have met with limited success.”This is an extraordinary disease that requires extraordinary means to combat it,” says Yen, who began working on head blight in 1997.Using advanced genetic and molecular technologies, Yen has begun tracing the biochemical pathways that make wheat susceptible or resistant to head blight. Three graduate students and two postdoctoral scientists have worked on this research over the last 16 years.Multiple hosts and pathogensHead blight can be caused by multiple pathogens, and these pathogens can attack multiple hosts including grasses and corn, Yen explains. This makes the disease tougher to combat.Researchers are working to develop resistant types of grain, alter tillage practices and apply fungicides to fight the disease.”This disease is not new,” Yen says. It was first reported in England in 1884 and in North America in 1890. …

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Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Preventing Head Blight in Barley, Wheat: Biochemical Pathways Hold Key to Resistance

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