The spread of exotic and aggressive strains of a plant fungus is presenting a serious threat to wheat production in the UK, according to research published in Genome Biology. The research uses a new surveillance technique that could be applied internationally to respond to the spread of a wide variety of plant diseases.
Wheat is a critical staple and provides 20% of the calories and over 25% of the protein consumed by humans. 'Yellow rust' caused by the fungus Puccinia striiformis f. sp. tritici (PST) is one of the plant's major diseases and is widespread across the major wheat-producing areas of the world. Infections lead to significant reductions in both grain quality and yield, with some rare events leading to the loss of an entire crop. New fungus strains have recently emerged that adapt to warmer temperatures, are more aggressive and have overcome many of the major defensive genes in wheat.
Lead author Diane Saunders of the John Innes Centre and The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC), UK, said: "Increased virulence, globalization, and climate change, are all increasing the scale and frequency of emerging plant diseases, and threatening global food security.
"Our research shows that in the UK we have a newly emerging population of wheat rust fungus that could be the result of an influx of more exotic and aggressive strains that are displacing the previous population. By continuing to use these new surveillance techniques, not only can we track and respond to the ongoing threat of wheat rust, but our technology opens the door for tracking other plant pathogens, including ash dieback."
Researchers from the John Innes Centre, The Sainsbury Laboratory, TGAC and the National Institute of Agricultural Botany sequenced genetic material from 39 PST-infected samples of wheat collected from 17 UK counties in 2013.
By comparing the fungal RNA with fungal genetic information from previously prevalent populations between 1978 and 2011, they showed that there has been a rapid and dramatic shift in the PST population that could have serious implications for wheat production in the UK.
The 2013 PST samples showed more genetic variation and diversity, reflecting an increase in the evolutionary potential in the UK pathogen population that could enhance their ability to overcome disease resistance in wheat.
Of the samples, 11 were also genetically similar to a PST strain called "Warrior". The strain emerged in 2011 as a serious threat to European wheat production due to its virulence on an array of previously resistant wheat varieties. This indicates that a diverse PST population containing the "Warrior" strain is now prevalent across the UK.
This new diagnostic technique, called "field pathogenomics", could be applied internationally to respond to the spread of a wide variety of plant diseases. By rapidly pinpointing a fungus's genetic make-up from field samples, the technique is able to confirm outbreaks on particular wheat varieties and provides an efficient means of confirming whether previously resistant wheat varieties have been broken by virulent strains of the pathogen. This is in contrast to current techniques which can be lengthy, costly and are only able to sample a relatively small proportion of the fungal population.
The data collection and analysis took just a few months to produce from sample collections from the field, demonstrating the potential for the method to reduce delays and transform current disease surveillance systems. The highly detailed information that is generated could help inform disease incidence predictions and agricultural practices.
"Rwanda’s top musicians promote beans, a nutritious food that improves children's and women's health! The artistes (King James, Miss Jojo, Riderman,Tom Close, and Urban Boyz) have donated their talent for a healthier Rwanda. Help Rwanda say goodbye to malnutrition by sharing this great song! Swahili with English subtitles."
Mary Williams's insight:
I was trying to find photos of biofortified crops and I did even better - I found a cheerful video about iron-biofortified beans, developed by HarvestPlus. Great way to start your lesson on micronutrients!
Postdocs helping postdocs! So many postdocs are organizing events and efforts to address the concerns about the future of research. Here is an excellent article by a group that organized one of the first "Future of Research" events. They nicely summarize key concerns and proposed solutions in the F1000Research article, "F1000Research Article: Shaping the Future of Research: a perspective from junior scientists" (http://f1000research.com/articles/3-291/v2). More events are planned (some by faculty, others by postdocs)- see here http://futureofresearch.org/, including one at NYU in May http://nyu-postdocs.weebly.com/. I urge you to read the F1000Research article for inspiration - maybe you'll even organize your own event to help other postdocs? Meanwhile, you can contribute by completing a survey on plant science careers here ow.ly/JA4Hh
Great opportunity to hear Paul Williams speak. Paul developed the Wisconsin Fast Plants, is a terrifically entertaining speaker, and is one of the most accomplished plant science ambassadors (and a hero of mine!). You can watch the lecture live tomorrow 7pm Wisconsin time, or catch the recording later. Video link http://www.biotech.wisc.edu/webcams?lecture=20150211_1900
Lunar Plant Growth Chamber - I found this fun activity from NASA - grow plants in a "lunar growth chamber" as an "Earth control" experiment for NASA's moon experiment.
"Be part of the excitement; help scientists learn how to grow plants on the moon! In 2015, a chamber to grow plants will blast off, fly through space for 4 days then land on the moon. This chamber will be sealed, have a small window on the top and a camera attached on the inside to watch the plants grow. Scientists will monitor the germination and growth of the seeds by taking pictures every 12 hours for 14 Earth days."
"Using Arabidopsis seedlings, we identified a range of small fluorescent probes that entered the translocation stream and were unloaded at the root tip. These probes had absorbance/emission maxima ranging from 367/454 nm to 546/576 nm and represent a versatile toolbox for studying phloem transport."
Terrific Open Access review of high throughput phenotyping - what, how and why. This would be a really interesting paper to read with a plant physiology class. It brings the Wow factor of robotics and computer vision-assisted analysis tools to plant physiology and breeding. It also embraces the very modern ethos of the Maker Movement, "The growing Maker Movement and Community enable the design of low-cost custom phenotyping hardware with inexpensive 3D-printers, computers, microcontrollers, cameras, and a plethora of plug-and-play sensors." In other words, you can be a biologist and still (essentially) play with Lego....
Johnathan Jones (The Sainsbury Lab) wrote about UK parliament's new report. His summary, "In summary, ten MPs from three parties currently seeking re-election have written a brave report on a controversial technology. Their recommendations are indisputable. There is nothing intrinsically risky about GM. Current regulation is not fit for purpose; we should regulate specific traits, not the method by which they are delivered, in each member state." (Link to report http://www.parliament.uk/…/gm-foods-and-application-of-the…/)
This is such an amazing opportunity! Good luck applicants.
"We will accept a maximum of twenty students onto this course. Students can be at any career stage and sector or working or resident in any country and will be selected on the basis of abstracts describing prior experience and benefit to their research and career. Successful students will be notified soon after abstract submission closes on 5th May and asked to proceed to registration. Registration will be £720 and includes course materials, accommodation, excursion and social events"
"Rising temperatures and lessening fresh water supplies are threatening agricultural productivity and have motivated efforts to improve plant water use and drought tolerance. During water deficit, plants produce elevated levels of abscisic acid (ABA), which improves water consumption and stress tolerance by controlling guard cell aperture and other protective responses.... Here we describe a variant of the ABA receptor PYRABACTIN RESISTANCE 1 (PYR1) that possesses nanomolar sensitivity to the agrochemical mandipropamid and demonstrate its efficacy for controlling ABA responses and drought tolerance in transgenic plants. Furthermore, crystallographic studies provide a mechanistic basis for its activity and demonstrate the relative ease with which the PYR1 ligand-binding pocket can be altered to accommodate new ligands. Thus, we have successfully repurposed an agrochemical for a new application using receptor engineering. We anticipate that this strategy will be applied to other plant receptors and represents a new avenue for crop improvement."
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