International focus on cereal rusts

Image of large group of people posing in front of a building entrance

Iraqi scientists and staff involved in a four-week training program to
help control wheat rust diseases. The program was conducted by the
Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia, and the
University of Sydney at the Plant Breeding Institute in Cobbitty,
New South Wales.

Rust diseases in wheat are an ongoing issue in most wheat-producing regions around the world. Stripe rust is the most pressing concern due to its regular occurrence in epidemic proportions, while stem rust in East Africa is also a major concern because of its potential to develop as a regional epidemic.

To help contain the threats from rust diseases, researchers at the University of Sydney Plant Breeding Institute’s Cereal Rust Laboratory are joining with international efforts in research, development and extension.

Stem rust in wheat – East Africa

Discovery of the wheat stem rust pathotype TTKSK (Ug99) in Uganda, East Africa, in 1999 has led to a renewed focus on breeding wheat resistant to stem rust. We now know that Ug99 is among a family of eight stem rust pathotypes, each of which pose different threats to wheat germplasm in countries around the globe, including Australia.

International surveillance of stem rust through the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat (DRRW) project, led by Cornell University in the US, shows that one or more members of the Ug99 family are present from southern Africa to Iran.

Each year, Australian wheat germplasm is tested for its response to Ug99 in Njoro, an agricultural town in Kenya, with assistance from the Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute. The test results enable Australian breeders to assess the vulnerability of breeding lines and help determine how Australian wheat cultivars stack up against the Ug99 pathotypes.

Stripe rust in barley – Mexico

Although it is not yet found in Australia, stripe rust in barley is considered a major exotic threat because regular testing at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico shows that Australian barley cultivars are potentially vulnerable to the disease. Barley germplasm and cultivars are tested at CIMMYT each year to help provide a basis for defense in the event of an incursion and to progressively introduce stripe-rust resistance into Australian barley varieties.

Teaching and training – international

There is a major focus on teaching at the Plant Breeding Institute (PBI) as part of the University of Sydney, which is in turn driven by its research program. This teaching ranges from supervision of graduate students preparing for their PhD studies over three years to short-term training of scientists in areas of rust research.

Most of the university’s graduates choose careers in plant pathology and wheat breeding. Graduates now working as research scientists at CIMMYT include Dr Ravi Singh, Dr David Bonnett, Dr Sridhar Bhavani and Dr Aleksandre Loladze.

Professor Robert Park recently received funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for postgraduate training, which has seen five students travel from East Africa to complete their masters and PhD studies at the University of Sydney. Students funded by the Australian Agency for International Development, Bhutan, and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, India, are working with Dr Harbans Bariana and Dr Urmil Bansal at the university.

Short-term training has also allowed PBI to assist with rust control efforts in China, Ethiopia, Kenya, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, India and Pakistan. For example, PBI contributed to a four-week training program run by the Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia, in September to help 20 Iraqi scientists tackle rust disease in wheat.

More information:

Professor Robert Park
02 9351 8806

Associate Professor Colin Wellings
02 9351 8826

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GRDC Project Code US00039

Region National, Overseas, South