Gene pair may fight wheat disease

AFP-JIJI

Two genes resistant to fungal wheat disease may help ward off a growing epidemic of stem rust that threatens crops in Africa, the Middle East and beyond, researchers said Friday.

Scientists have spent years trying to pin down the sections of the wheat genome that are resistant to Ug99, a pathogen that was first found to be killing wheat crops in Uganda in the late 1990s and has since appeared in Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, Yemen and Iran. It has the potential to infect 90 percent of the world’s crops.

Two genes appear to confer resistance by acting as part of the plant’s immune system and fighting off the deadly fungal disease.

“This is a very significant development,” said Ronnie Coffman, international professor of plant breeding at Cornell University who was not involved in the two companion studies published in the U.S. journal Science. “It puts us in a position eventually to stack multiple genes, tightly linked, that will provide durable resistance against the pathogen.”