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Crop Biotech Update

Scientists Discover SWEET Genes to Fight Bacterial Blight

September 26, 2018

Bacterial blight is a serious disease of rice that easily spreads to large areas, causing around 30 percent loss in yield, affecting incomes for smallholder farmers in Asia. Scientists at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) led a study that looked into genes that will help bacterial blight disease in rice.

Major genes for resistance to bacterial blight called Xa genes (e.g., Xa4, Xa5, Xa21), have already been used in rice breeding programs, but the bacteria adapted to resistant varieties making them susceptible again. In a paper published in PLOS One, scientists discovered variations of SWEET genes that make rice plant resistance to Xanthomonas oryzae pv. Oryzae which causes bacterial blight. In normal conditions, the pathogen promotes the leakage of sugars by activating SWEET genes in the plant cell. However, the new SWEET gene variants prevent the release of sugar, which stops the bacteria from getting nutrition from the host plant. "The bacteria eventually dies," explains IRRI senior scientist on plant pathology Dr. Ricardo Oliva.

According to Oliva, the genes naturally occur in rice. They were able to identify potential variations in the SWEET gene to be used in breeding new blight-resistant varieties using IRRI's germplasm collection. Oliva adds, "The variations appear to have emerged from at least three rice subspecies. This opens up the gates to use similar techniques to fight other pathogens in rice as well as in other crops such as corn, wheat, and cassava."

Read more in the IRRI media release.