Friday, January 30, 2015
PLACERVILLE, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Rock doc: Progress in fighting wheat rust

By
August 22, 2013 |

Scientists have been hard at work in recent years combatting a significant disease of wheat. Stem rust is caused by a group of nasty fungal organisms that can infect wheat plants and devastate yields. In some cases up to 100 percent of the crop can be lost. That’s a disaster for farmers, obviously, but it’s also potentially an enormous problem for those of us who eat bread, hotcakes and muffins, and who want to keep such foodstuffs in our diet.

The battle between stem rust and agricultural researchers isn’t new. Sometimes the tide runs in one direction, sometimes in another. At the end of the last century the advantage went to the fungus side. In Ethiopia and Uganda in 1998 and 1999, a new type of stem rust appeared. It’s known for short as “Ug99” for Uganda, 1999. The new rust is able to grow on most strains of wheat raised the world around. Because wheat is so important to the human diet, Ug99 has been seen as an enormous threat to the world’s food supply.
Luckily, Ug99 is apparently still limited in its occurrence to east Africa and possibly Iran. So far it’s not spread to places like Pakistan where it could devastate a food supply on which many millions of people depend. But time is ticking away, and the threat of Ug99 is very real.
Farmers in the developed world can combat stem rusts by spraying their crops with fungicides. But in the developing world, small farmers simply don’t have the economic resources to buy and apply fungicides. They are at the mercy of stem rust and can lose their crops to its many fungal strains.
To help farmers everywhere, ag researchers have been trying to give wheat genetically-based resistance to stem rusts, including Ug99. If the plant itself could resist infection, the problem of Ug99 infection would be solved without the expense of sprays.
I live surrounded by farmland and I like to hope I appreciate all farmers do. But it’s also worth remembering that agricultural researchers are an important part of the picture that gives us an abundant food supply even in the face of constantly evolving disease threats. So let’s hear it for the pointy-headed researchers in labs, greenhouses and test plots everywhere.
One ag researcher at Washington State University is Prof. Tim Murray. Murray is a plant pathologist, in other words, someone who works on combatting diseases in plants. Murray was kind enough recently to talk to me about two articles published this summer in the journal Science about Ug99 and resistance to the disease conferred by two genes.
Some 10,000 years ago ancient farmers started to bring about what ultimately became modern bread wheat. Such wheat emerged from the cross-breeding of several wild grasses. The first big step was taken with the crossing of two genomes or species of plants. Then another cross-pollination combining three genomes led to basic bread wheat as we know it today.
“One of the techniques we have as researchers is to go back to wild relatives looking for useful genes,” Murray said.
Two such useful genes have now been identified, Sr33 and Sr35 (the Sr stands for “stem rust”). And those genes have been put into varieties of bread wheat via traditional crossing (not GMO). I’ve written in the past about the value of research that’s done by making collecting trips around the globe in search of varieties of wild plants that are kin to our crop plants. Such trips and the seed banks that house the resulting collections can be used to create give researchers materials for crosses when they need it.
The Sr33 gene gives wheat a relatively broad range of stem rust resistance but not excellent resistance to Ug99. Sr35 confers effective resistance for Ug99 but is vulnerable to other stem rusts.
“The next step is for researchers to combine Sr33 and Sr35 in one plant,” Murray said. “That’s not an uncommon strategy, combining multiple resistance genes into one variety of wheat.”
Murray explained to me more work must be done and Ug99 remains a serious threat. But the two recent articles mark real progress. And in such an important arena as the world’s wheat supply, it’s worth celebrating the victories that researchers are starting to make over major threats like Ug99.
Dr. E. Kirsten Peters, a native of the rural Northwest, was trained as a geologist at Princeton and Harvard. This column is a service of the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University.

Comments

Subscription Required

Thank you for reading the MtDemocrat.com digital edition. In order to continue reading this story please choose one of the following options.

Current Subscribers
If you are a current subscriber and wish to obtain access to MtDemocrat.com, please select the Subscriber Verification option below. If you already have a login, please select "Login" at the lower right corner of this box.

Subscriber Verification

Special Introductory Offer
For a short time we will be offering a discount to those who call us in order to obtain access to MtDemocrat.com and start your print subscription. Our customer support team will be standing by Monday through Friday, 8am to 5pm to assist you.

Call and Save! (530) 344-5000

If you are not a current subscriber and wish not to take advantage of our special introductory offer, please select the $12 monthly option below to obtain access to MtDemocrat.com and start your online subscription

Help?

E. Kirsten Peters

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe and receive notifications of new posts by email.

  • .

    News

     
    Limited Prop. 90 extension approved

    By Chris Daley | From Page: A1

    Placerville PD testing out body cams

    By Wendy Schultz | From Page: A1

     
    Clay Street bridge plan reactivated

    By Wendy Schultz | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    American River Inn: Duo maintain Georgetown landmark

    By Rebecca Murphy | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Mustang strikes tree on Latrobe Road

    By Cole Mayer | From Page: A3

    Multi-car collision causes major injury

    By Cole Mayer | From Page: A3

     
    Awards for innovative EID workers

    By Michael Raffety | From Page: A3

    DUI patrols set for Super Bowl Sunday

    By El Dorado County District Attorney's Office | From Page: A10

     
    .

    Opinion

    Billingsley’s Bullets: Want to create ageless joy?

    By Bob Billingsley | From Page: A6

     
    Salmon on Cosumnes?

    By Mountain Democrat | From Page: A6

    The weekly Daley: I’m not a scientist, but…

    By Chris Daley | From Page: A6

     
    .

    Letters

    When is a fee not a fee?

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

     
    I hope his friends read Altshuler’s column

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A7

    Placerville Main Street Rehabilitation Project

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A7

     
    .

    Sports

    South 1 season gets underway

    By Jerry Heinzer | From Page: A11

     
    El Dorado sets up Sr. Night showdown

    By Jerry Heinzer | From Page: A11 | Gallery

    Cougars edge Union Mine

    By Jerry Heinzer | From Page: A11 | Gallery

     
    El Dorado races past D’backs

    By Mike Bush | From Page: A11 | Gallery

    Roundup: Jan. 28, 2015

    By Democrat Staff | From Page: A11

     
    Alpine Race results

    By Democrat Staff | From Page: A11

    Bruins pin down Roseville

    By Mike Bush | From Page: A12 | Gallery

     
    .

    Prospecting

    IT takes two in ‘Red, White and Tuna’

    By Pat Lakey | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Guitar heroes play at Harris Center

    By Carrera Productions | From Page: B2

    Things to do: Jan. 30, 2015

    By Democrat Calendar | From Page: B2

     
    Discover Ecstatic Dance in Placerville

    By News Release | From Page: B2

    Pink Floyd tribute at Sutter Creek Theatre

    By Sutter Creek | From Page: B3

     
    Guess Who is at MontBleu

    By Montbleu | From Page: B3

    Feist Wines presents Willie Watson in concert

    By Feist Wines | From Page: B7

     
    Super time at Carson Valley Inn

    By Carson Valley Inn | From Page: B8

    Visual artistry dazzles the audience

    By Harris Center for the Arts | From Page: B8

     
    .

    Essentials

    Lake levels 1-29-15

    By Michael Raffety | From Page: A2

     
    .

    Obituaries

    Janet Louise (Percy) Ostlund

    By Contributor | From Page: A2

     
    William Charles “Chuck” Terry funeral notice

    By Contributor | From Page: A2

    Jerald Warren Bennett

    By Contributor | From Page: A2

     
    Donald Benjamin Deal

    By Contributor | From Page: A2

    .

    Real Estate

    The curse of a quick offer

    By Ken Calhoon | From Page: HS4

     
    .

    Comics

    Speed Bump

    By Contributor | From Page: A13

     
    Tundra

    By Contributor | From Page: A13

    Shoe

    By Contributor | From Page: A13

     
    Sudoku

    By Contributor | From Page: A13

    TV Listings

    By Contributor | From Page: A13

     
    Rubes

    By Contributor | From Page: A13

    Long Story Short

    By Contributor | From Page: A13

     
    New York Times Crossword

    By Contributor | From Page: A14

    Horoscope, Sunday, February 1, 2015

    By Contributor | From Page: A14

     
    Horoscope, Saturday, January 31, 2015

    By Contributor | From Page: A14

    Horoscope, Friday, January 30, 2015

    By Contributor | From Page: A14

     
    .

    Home Source

    The curse of a quick offer

    By Ken Calhoon | From Page: HS4