Crown rot resistance enters breeding pipeline

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Dr Phillip Davies

A phase of pre-breeding research has recently been completed that will allow germplasm with enhanced crown rot tolerance and resistance to be delivered to commercial breeding companies this year.

The latest advance against a disease that costs Australian growers an estimated $80 million every year is the culmination of five years of GRDC-supported research at the University of Sydney’s Plant Breeding Institute (PBI) at Narrabri, New South Wales.

PBI researcher Dr Philip Davies says new sources of resistance from wild relatives of wheat and landraces from overseas have been agronomically adapted to Australian conditions and are now making their way through the commercial breeding cycle. “The material we have made available to breeding companies will hopefully make it into growers’ paddocks in the next seven or eight years,” Dr Davies says.

Dr Davies’ work within the GRDC-funded crown rot pre-breeding research led to him being named winner of the 2016 GRDC Emerging Leader Award.

Crown rot is caused by the fungus Fusarium pseudograminearum and is one of the most serious disease threats to winter cereal crops.

Dr Davies says that while the research is expected to save the industry millions in the longer term, such genetic improvement will not be a ‘silver bullet’ in terms of complete varietal resistance and tolerance.

He says disease control will always be a combination of genetics and improving management practices: “The GRDC investments reflect that. There’s been significant investment in a national crown rot management project led by NSW Department of Primary Industries cereal plant pathologist Dr Steven Simpfendorfer looking at crop rotations, operations between crops such as inter-row sowing, nitrogen management and weed management in fallow.”

Dr Davies says resistance centres on the ability of a plant to halt the invasion or progression of pathogen infection, while tolerance is the physiological response of a plant enabling it to avoid yield loss.

“With crown rot, you are never going to get absolute resistance. We are always going to have to look for those partial sources of resistance and tolerance so the plants can escape yield loss.”

More information:

Dr Philip Davies,
02 6799 2244,
philip.davies@sydney.edu.au

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