News, Research and Development

CSIRO make breakthrough to boost disease resistant crops

Scientists at CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, have achieved a breakthrough in molecular plant pathology, marking a technological leap forward for breeding durable disease-resistant crops.

Plant pathogens, organisms which cause plant diseases, greatly reduce agricultural productivity and are a persistent threat to global food security.

Annually, rust pathogens lead to crop losses of  $1.5 billion worldwide.

CSIRO scientists have developed a novel rapid gene-screening platform which can identify new avirulence (Avr) effector genes in plant pathogens, building on decades of CSIRO research in synthetic biology, genetics and molecular plant pathology.

This research can have a large impact on the food industry and future development of pathogen resistant crops.

CSIRO’s co-lead of the project 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.”

Effector genes in plant pathogens, like rust fungus, encode proteins that suppress plant immune responses. However, if the plant recognises these pathogen proteins, they can activate plant defence mechanisms and stop widespread infection.

“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,” said Dodds.

Dr Thomas Vanhercke, who also co-led the project explained that while this study examined Avr genes in a rust fungus which affects wheat, the same technique can be applied to other crops and pathogens.

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