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Curtin joins international consortium to fight crop disease

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Curtin University’s Centre for Crop and Disease Management (CCDM) has been awarded a major grant to partner with leading European wheat genetics groups, to reduce the destruction of the major wheat diseases of Europe and Australia.

The ERA-CAPS grant, worth nearly €2 million (AU$2.8 million), will see five wheat genetics institutes from five countries – UK, Germany, Denmark, Norway and Australia – form a team to deliver genetic tools for breeders to reduce the economic impact of three major wheat diseases, Tan Spot, Septoria nodorum blotch and Septoria tritici blotch.

CCDM’s Chief Scientist Professor Richard Oliver said being part of the European consortium will allow the CCDM to build strong links beyond the Australian border and help it become a major international player in its area of expertise – crop disease research.

“Being part of this trans-national collaboration builds on our well-regarded research that has provided wheat breeders in Australia with genetic solutions for improving disease resistance in wheat varieties,” Professor Oliver said.

“At the CCDM we focus on necrotrophic effectors – which are proteins secreted by the fungal pathogen that cause disease symptoms.

“Over the past few years we have helped breeders use these effectors to distinguish which wheat varieties are resistant to disease, saving the Australian grains industry nearly $100 million per annum in yield gains.

“Being a partner in the European consortium will allow us to take this research further, providing us access to world-leading wheat genetics resources to accelerate our search for more effectors and genetic markers, enabling Australian breeders to produce even more resistant wheat cultivars.”

The newly established team will work together in identifying new effectors for the three major diseases and their corresponding sensitivity genes within wheat using high-resolution wheat germplasm resources.

They will also establish prevention and management strategies against the pathogens, and deliver their findings and tools to breeders across the world.

“Wheat is the world’s most widely cultivated crop, playing a crucial role in global food security, however, disease has always held back yields. Even with the use of fungicide, disease is estimated to cause a 10 to 15 per cent yield penalty in wheat,” Professor Oliver said.

“Our effector work has opened up a new strategy for fighting wheat disease with minimal environmental impact, and with this new collaboration, who knows what sort of breeding tools we will find next.”

CCDM’s Director Professor Mark Gibberd said the new project will ensure Australian growers benefit by leveraging off research activities and outcomes from European research agencies.

“The project also allows Australian growers to benefit from pre-emptive research activities – this is particularly important as disease strains in Europe can be more severe and may not yet be present in Australia,” Professor Gibberd said.

The consortium, named EfectaWheat, is led by the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB, UK) and along with the CCDM includes Aarhus University (Denmark), Norwegian University of Life Sciences (Norway) and the Bayerische Landesanstalt fur Landwirtschaft (Germany).

ERA-CAPS is a European initiative promoting sustainable collaboration in plant sciences through coordinating and funding excellent transnational research.

The CCDM was launched in 2014, building on previous Curtin work from the Australian Centre for Necrotrophic Fungal Pathogens (ACNFP). It is co-funded by Curtin and the Grains Research and Development Corporations.

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