Factsheet of the month: April – Wheat stem rust

wheat stem rustLast week, the Borlaug Summit on Wheat for Food Security took place in Mexico, bringing together thought leaders, policymakers, and leading agricultural research-for-development organizations to discuss the role of wheat in the future of food security. Wheat is an extremely important crop that provides around 20% of the world’s calories but this staple crop is threatened in some areas by a fungal disease called stem rust.

To find out about the symptoms and management of wheat stem rust, please click the Wheat stem rust factsheet which was produced in Rwanda (also available in Kinyarwandan).

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Which is the most important plant-pathogenic fungus?

Stem rust on wheat - one of the Top 10 plant-pathogenic fungi © Yue Jin (USDA ARS)

A survey by the journal, Molecular Plant Pathology, had 495 responses from international fungal pathologists on what they thought the most scientifically and economically important fungal plant pathogens were. Several of the ‘top 10’ fungi from these results are those that infect cereal crops, which isn’t surprising as cereals such as wheat and rice are some of the most highly produced crops worldwide. Continue reading

Does rust-free rice hold the secret?

All cereals, except rice, are susceptible to rust. Wheat, maize, barley, millet, triticale, and oats all get rust. The spores of rust fungi land on a host plant, germinate, and grow toward a stomatal pore on the leaf surface to initiate infection. Rust infections produce red or yellow pustulating spores that give infected plants a “rusty” look. In susceptible plants, rust cuts off the plants’ ability to photosynthesise nutrients in their leaves and transport nutrients in their stems, causing stems to weaken and plants to fall over, making what little yield there is nearly impossible to harvest.

Rice, the “stainless steel” among cereal grasses, has long intrigued plant breeders and plant pathologists. For decades scientists have believed that, by discovering the genes that make rice immune to rusts, they might be able to introduce these genes into other cereal grains such as wheat and maize.

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