UK - Researchers at the John Innes Centre and SRUC have found that barley plants which are tolerant to drought also have improved resistance to Ramularia leaf spot.
This new finding is significant because Ramularia is one of the top two diseases of spring barley in Scotland and Ireland and can cause yield losses of 15 per cent or more if not controlled.
The research, which has been published in the journal Molecular Plant Pathology, found barley plants which express higher levels of the gene SNAC1 which enhances drought-tolerance, have considerably lower levels of Ramularia. This effect is specific to Ramularia and has no effect on other fungal diseases such as mildew, eyespot, Fusarium or blast.
Currently Ramularia is controlled by fungicides although there has been some progress in producing barley varieties with improved resistance to the disease.
Professor James Brown of the John Innes Centre, who led the research, said: “Ramularia is a new challenge for arable farming. JIC’s research has focussed on the complex ways that Ramularia attacks barley. This is giving barley breeders new leads for selecting high-yielding varieties with better resistance to Ramularia.”
Dr Graham McGrann began the research at the John Innes Centre. He is now based at SRUC.
He said: “A surprising feature of Ramularia is that it interacts with many other traits in the barley plant. While it might take some years for our findings to be of practical benefit to arable farmer, they are nevertheless important because understanding these interactions will ultimately support breeding and crop management in barley.”
The research was supported by BBSRC, RERAS and HGCA through the Sustainable Arable LINK programme. It also involved KWS, Lantmännen SW, Limagrain, LS Plant Breeding, Masstock, Saaten-Union, Secobra, Sejet and Syngenta, James Hutton Institute, NIAB-TAG, BASF and Bayer.
Ramularia was only identified in Scotland in 1998 but since then research by SRUC has already provided farmers with the means to help tackle it. Tools for rapidly detecting and controlling RLS have been developed, helping reduce the £17.52 million annual cost of the disease to the Scottish barley industry. Find out more via 'New crop disease? It's under control!'.
Graham added: “We are continuously increasing our knowledge of the disease in order to strengthen our ability to control it.”
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