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New technology could bring super-wheat to fields

Staff writer |
Scientists at the John Innes Centre (JIC) and The Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL) have pioneered a new gene-detecting technology.

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If deployed correctly it could lead to the creation of a new variety of wheat with durable resistance to disease.

Working with fellow scientists at TSL, Brande Wulff from the JIC developed the new technology called MutRenSeq which accurately pinpoints the location of disease resistance genes in large plant genomes and which has reduced the time it takes to clone these genes in wheat from 5 to 10 years down to just two.

Effective use of these resistance genes in wheat could increase global yields and vastly reduce the need for agro-chemical applications, according to the pioneer.

A resistance gene acts like a simple lock keeping the pathogen from infecting the plant. Over time, as many breeders and growers have found, pathogens can adapt to overcome an individual resistance gene and infect the plant.

A stack of multiple genes acts like a multi-lever lock, making it much harder for new pathogens to evade the crop’s defences.

Brande Wulff said: “The challenge has always been finding enough resistance genes to create an effective multi-gene stack against virulent pathogens like wheat stem rust and wheat yellow rust which, if left unchallenged, can decimate crops across the world.

“With the advent of this new technology, the development of a new variety of wheat with strong resistance to one or more of these pathogens is now within reach.”

Using this technology, scientists can very quickly locate resistance genes from crops, clone them and stack multiple resistance genes into one elite variety.

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