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Winning the race against rust

The latest technology has scientists poised for a breakthrough 
on this tough crop disease

Wheat stripe rust, seen here, and oat crown rust, are the subjects of a joint U.S.-Australia study.

With its ever-evolving virulence, rust is a disease of major global concern for farmers.

Now a group of scientists says cutting-edge genome sequencing technology could provide a better path forward than the traditional approaches using fungicides.

The scientists, from U.S. and Australian government agencies and universities, recently released the results in mBio, a journal from the American Society of Microbiology.

The research team has now generated the first haplotype-resolved genome sequences for the rust fungi causing oat crown rust and wheat stripe rust diseases, two of the most destructive pathogens in oat and wheat, respectively.

“Like humans, rust fungi contain two copies of each chromosome, which makes their genetics much more complicated than other types of fungi,” said Melania Figueroa from the University of Minnesota. “A key advance of this work is that for the first time, separate genome assemblies were generated reflecting both of the two chromosome copies in the rust.”

These studies represent a breakthrough in plant pathology as they now show how genetic diversity between the two chromosome copies can influence the emergence of new virulent pathogen strains.

Both studies uncovered a surprisingly high level of diversity between the two copies, suggesting that such variation likely serves as the basis to rapidly evolve new rust strains.

“This work will really help understand how new rust diseases like the highly destructive Ug99 race of wheat stem rust can overcome resistance in crop,” said Peter Dodds of Australia’s CSIRO Agriculture and Food.

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