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How wheat can root out the take-all fungus

A team of young researchers has now pinpointed a way of easing cereals’ risks from a deadly root pathogen

Take-all infection causing shiny black discolouration of lower stem area of wheat plant and poor root development. Note black colour and almost absence of feeder roots.

British researchers say the key to preventing the buildup of the take-all fungus is to foster beneficial fungus, which can help the plants to help themselves.

Working out the right conditions to support those beneficial fungi and identifying the cereal varieties that are best suited to make the most of that help is the challenge a young team of scientists from the U.K.’s Rothamsted Research has taken up. Their complete findings are published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

Take-all is a devastating root disease of cereal crops worldwide, caused by the fungal pathogen, Gaeumannomyces tritici. Related species are capable of immunizing plant roots. Farmers struggle to control the disease because few chemical seed treatments are available.

“This work aimed to explore whether wheat genetics can be exploited to help support and potentially build up populations of closely related take-all suppressing fungal species that are known to lower the disease levels caused by the take-all fungus,” says Vanessa McMillan, co-author and post-doctoral researcher in plant pathology.

The team collected samples of the beneficial fungus from the fields of Rothamsted Farm and developed a laboratory test to explore their ability to colonize and protect the roots of barley, rye, wheat and triticale. In field trials, the team identified commercial cereal varieties that performed better than others.

“The ability of wheat cultivars to support and be colonized by natural or introduced populations of beneficial Gaeumannomyces species could be harnessed and exploited,” McMillan said.

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