Editorial: Top Crop East April 2019
One step ahead
By Stefanie Croley
We live in an era of constant connection, where it can be difficult to focus on the task at hand without looking ahead to what’s coming up next. Agriculture is no different, and, perhaps, has always been this way – I don’t know any farmers who aren’t thinking about scouting or spraying before planting has completely wrapped up. Producers are always on the hunt for the best possible strategies and solutions for problems that haven’t yet happened, and the industry is a reflection of that with constant innovation and development in the works.
Researchers at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, U.K., with assistance from colleagues in the United States and Australia, have developed a new way to quickly recruit disease resistance genes from wild plants and transfer them to domestic crops.
According to a release from the John Innes Centre, the technique, called AgRenSeq or speed cloning, enables researchers to search a genetic “library” of resistance genes discovered in wild relatives of modern crops. This assists researchers in identifying sequences associated with disease-fighting capability. The next step is to clone the genes and introduce them into domestic crops to protect them against troublesome pests and pathogens.
While this process has been done before, speed cloning will allow researchers to do it in a matter of months – record timing, compared to the 10 or 15 years it would take to accomplish using conventional methods, according to Dr. Brande Wulff, one of the project’s leaders in Norwich.
In field trials using wild wheat, researchers were able to successfully identify and clone four resistance genes for stem rust pathogens over a period of a few months. The team collected 151 strains of a wild grass and inoculated the population with the stem rust pathogen, then screened plants to identify those resistant and susceptible to the disease. After comparing the collected information with the DNA sequences of the plants, the team was left with a so-called library of resistance genes.
This breakthrough in technology could mean significant advancements in the fight against crop disease from a scientific level in the coming few years – especially timely news given the leaf disease theme of this issue. As you’ll read in this issue, Canadian scientists are on par with those previously mentioned, making great strides in the fight against serious disease threats. Of particular note, Dr. Alireza Navabi’s focus on stripe rust resistance research as part of his winter wheat breeding program, which you can read about on page 6, is just one example of how Canadian researchers are leading the charge when it comes to disease research.
It’s important to stay focused on what’s currently happening, but just as imperative to anticipate what lies ahead. As your season begins, take a note from the research playbook and look for ways to improve what’s to come.
Editor’s note: As this issue went to press, we became aware of the passing of Dr. Alireza Navabi, a wheat breeder and professor in the department of plant agriculture at the University of Guelph, whose research is featured in our cover story. We acknowledge Dr. Navabi’s contribution to Canadian agriculture and share our sincere condolences with his family, friends and extended community.