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Crop Biotech Update

Scientists Call for International Investment to Tackle Major Wheat Losses

June 2, 2021

Scientists and experts from the John Innes Centre (JIC) urge governments around the world to come together and fund a new international research platform, to reduce the impact of major wheat pathogens, and improve global food security. The JIC is calling for an internationally coordinated approach to deliver a new ‘R-Gene Atlas', which would help identify new genetic solutions conferring disease resistance for crops, which could be bred into commercial wheat varieties.

Wheat R genes recognize corresponding molecules in the pathogen called effectors. By identifying the effectors present in pathogen and pest populations, more durable combinations or "stacks" of R genes could be designed. The R-gene atlas will be a free online portal containing this genetic information that will help breeders design gene stacks using computer modeling before starting their breeding in the field.

The idea for the R-gene atlas upon the recent surge in genomic resources available to researchers in wheat, facilitated by advancements in sequencing technologies and bioinformatics. The group also cites the global loss of one-fifth of the projected wheat yield annually to pests and pathogens totaling losses of 209 million tonnes, worth £22 billion ($31 billion). To minimize these losses, and to reduce reliance on chemical solutions, the team calls for broader use of disease resistance to be found in the genome of wheat and its wild relatives. This will provide long-lasting molecular protection against wheat's major pathogens including wheat rusts, blotch diseases, powdery mildew, and wheat blast.

For more details, read the JIC press release.

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