October 12, 2022 - Podcast

Episode 313 — Developing disease-resistant wheat

Fusarium Head Blight is a disease that threatens wheat production worldwide by reducing crop yields and grain quality. It also contaminates grain with mycotoxins, naturally occurring toxins produced by fungi.

Fusarium Head Blight is currently controlled mainly by using heavy applications of fungicides, which are detrimental to the environment. And the disease is predicted to become even more problematic in the future due to climate change.

Indiana University Biology Professor Roger Innes strives to understand the genetic and biochemical basis of disease resistance in plants. He studies how plants can recognize pathogens and actively respond.

Innes and his colleagues were recently awarded over $1.2 million from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture to generate wheat and barley lines with enhanced resistance to Fusarium Head Blight.

To do so, the researchers will collaborate with two other laboratories at Purdue University and Rothamsted Research in the United Kingdom.

The researchers will take advantage of an internal surveillance system in plants that activates immune responses. Using cutting-edge genome editing techniques, Innes’ team will create ways to help activate the plant immune system, thus conferring resistance to infection.

The researchers ultimately hope to develop genetic methods for the detection of pathogens, both in inside and outside plant cells, with a focus on wheat.

If their proposed combination of intracellular and extracellular detection systems succeeds, it could potentially be deployed against many other cereal pathogens, such as rust fungi and nematodes.

Collectively, this genetic-based approach could dramatically reduce our dependence on environmentally damaging pesticides, while increasing crop yields and reducing costs for farmers.