Biotech Updates

Australian Sunflower Genes Could Fortify U.S. Sunflowers

June 13, 2008

A team from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) has been collecting seeds from wild sunflowers growing in Australia. Their goal? To search for disease resistance genes in Australian wild flowers and incorporate these genes in sunflower hybrids growing in America.

Sunflowers from Down Under might have developed resistance from rust because of the year-round presence of rust and the rust fungus Puccinia helianthi. Scientists are hoping that there would be a kind of sunflower survival of the fittest, whereby genes from the hardiest Aussie plants could be used to fortify the defenses of their U.S. brethren.

In fall 2007, “We began greenhouse trials of the 59 wild Australian sunflower populations we collected to evaluate their resistance to downy mildew, which doesn’t currently exist in Australia, and to rust, which is severe there,” says ARS plant pathologist Thomas Gulya. “We’ll also compare them with some North American wild sunflower populations for resistance to Sclerotinia stalk rot. Of the three diseases, it is by far the most significant threat to the U.S. crop, so finding new sources of even partial resistance would be a great accomplishment.”

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