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University of Western Australia instigates disease-resistant canola crops

University of Western Australia

The University of Western Australia (UWA) and the UWA Institute of Agriculture have developed a screening platform which identifies plant genes that are resistant to disease-causing fungi in crops. This has the potential to protect canola crops in Australia. 

In deploying the resistant plant genes, University of Western Australia researchers could be responsible for more productive harvests and less use of fungicide for a major export industry. 

Blackleg, a disease-causing fungus that can wipe out crops, is a serious problem for canola growers with an average of 10 per cent yield loss per year. The researchers from the UWA Batley Lab investigated the evolution of the resistance genes against blackleg, to develop a durable resistance mechanism to the disease for breeders and farmers. 

The screening platform was then developed using genome sequencing. The resistance genes can be deployed in breeding programs to protect canola crops. 

Understanding plants’ resistance genes and how they interact with pathogens enabled researchers to improve the crop, yield and economic outcomes for farmers, UWA School of Biological Sciences lead author Professor Jacqueline Batley said. 

“There is a global need for sustainable food production and to reduce the use of chemicals on the land with less economic loss,” Batley said. 

“We need to make sure that we have sources of resistance across all plant species so that we have enough food on our table in the future as the population grows.” 

The disease resistance research could also be expanded to different species, Batley said. 

“Once you can understand the DNA, identify the genes and look at what’s causing certain traits, you can apply this to other species,” she said. 

This University of Western Australia project was undertaken in collaboration with researchers at the University of Melbourne. 

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