Biotech Updates

The Need for 'Rust Proof' Wheat

November 16, 2007

According to an FAO report, the increasing international wheat price which started in June, has peaked in the previous months as a response to record low levels of stocks and sustained demands. To make the matters worse, a new stem rust strain, Ug99-first discovered in Uganda in 1999, is on a worldwide march. The rust, which also threatens barley, has jumped the Red Sea, from East Africa to Yemen and is currently positioned to move on to Egypt, the Middle East and Mainland Asia. Scientists from the US are now on guard against the stem rust, as the spores of this fungal disease could reach the continent sooner or later.

Researchers from the US Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service (USDA ARS) are screening wheat collections and currently grown US varieties for resistance to the Ug99 rust strain. ARS has worked closely with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute. Preliminary studies show that Ug99 had overcome most of the resistance genes deployed in wheat cultivars, including the widely used Sr24 gene. ARS is now partnering with U.S. breeders through the National Wheat and Barley Improvement Committees, to develop breeder-friendly DNA markers to locate genes effective against Ug99.

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