U of I-led Team Identifies, Clones Gene to Protect Wheat, Barley from Major Disease
Trevan Pixley

U of I-led Team Identifies, Clones Gene to Protect Wheat, Barley from Major Disease

MOSCOW, ID - A University of Idaho-led team of international researchers identified and cloned a gene that can fend off a major disease threat to wheat and barley. The fungus can cut yields by half or more during severe outbreaks.

The genetic advance promises to improve development of new wheat varieties that will produce more dependable yields and reduce the need for pesticides to combat the fungal disease, according to the report co-authored by 23 researchers and recently published in Nature Communications, a major scientific journal.

Stripe rust threatens production in major wheat producing regions in Australia, Canada, China, France, India, the U.S. and many other nations The researchers work at U of I, Washington State University, University of California, Davis and two Chinese universities, Shandong Agricultural University and Sichuan Agricultural University.

Cloning, or copying, this gene took nearly 10 years, said Daolin Fu, a U of I wheat geneticist. Wheat researchers have identified 82 wheat stripe rust resistance genes, but the team’s success is only the eighth to be cloned.

The ability to copy the gene will allow wheat breeders to more selectively use it in developing new wheat and barley varieties.

The addition of the gene makes wheat more resistant to 11 races of stripe rust. Fu’s team successfully added the gene to U of I’s experimental wheat breeding lines.

The same gene also gave stripe rust resistance to a barley line, improving yield for producers, Fu said.

Wheat is the second most productive crop by weight, yielding 760 million tons, and provides 20% of the calories consumed by people worldwide.

Fu joined U of I faculty in 2016 after conducting research at Shandong University for China’s State Key Laboratory of Crop Biology in China and at University of California, Davis, with leading wheat scientist Jorge Dubcovsky.

The Idaho Wheat Commission supported Fu’s hiring at U of I through a novel agreement to harness the power of new genetic approaches to improving wheat production.

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