Grains Research and Development

Date: 01.06.2003

Editorial By John Lovett: Good scientific response to wheat virus

John Lovett

THE INITIAL discovery of wheat streak mosaic virus (WSMV) at the CSIRO Black Mountain Laboratories has seen concerted action across Australia to document the distribution of the disease and the design of management options. Such actions follow well developed and rehearsed incursion plans, which no doubt will be the subject of major review at the conclusion of this current event. Whilst the specific implications for the Australian grains industry of detecting WSMV are still being determined, several observations can be made.

The recognition and definitive identification of the disease is a testimony to some of the very good science being practiced in Australia. Virus symptoms are notoriously difficult to identify because they express themselves in the same way as a range of other factors such as chemical damage, nutritional deficiencies and heat stress. It would have been relatively easy to ascribe the symptoms to these factors and move on, rather than pursue investigating the reasons for the poor growth of plants.

Preparedness for exotic disease incursions is a significant strength of the grains industry. The scope and scale of the threats has been documented through a range of studies. For the major diseases, such as Kamal Bunt of wheat, significant breeding work has been undertaken in preparation for the possible arrival of the disease. Molecular markers are being developed to enable breeders to select for resistance in Australia despite the absence of the disease.

This preparedness has been established, in part, through the GRDC financing the establishment costs and maintaining investments to deliver the innovations that the industry requires. This has been done through highly successful partnerships, largely with public sector agencies that have provided core resources, both human and infrastructure. The stability of these partnerships over the past decade or so of the GRDCs existence has established a strong platform for growth in the grains industry. The renewal and reaffirmation of such partnerships and the development of new partnerships which involve the private sector are critical aspects of ensuring that the industry's research and development capability remains strong now and into the future.