Four PhD students appointed in India, Kenya and Ethiopia, will contribute to 1.4 million research to combat wheat stripe rust. A year of their projects will take place in Norwich or Cambridge, as part of a major international effort to improve crop production in developing countries.
Stripe rust poses a serious threat to wheat production. In recent years epidemics of new strains of this fungal disease have resulted in up to 40% yield losses in large wheat-producing areas across the world. These epidemics increase the price of food, threatening rural livelihoods and food security.
"In Kenya 80% of farmers growing wheat are smallholders who struggle to afford fungicide," said PhD student Mercy Wamalwa of Eggerton University, Kenya.
"Wheat is an important income generator for the resource-poor farmers of Ethiopia who sell their surplus produce on the domestic market," added Sisay Kidane, PhD student at the Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia, and a researcher at the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural research.
The most economic and environmentally sustainable way to fight this devastating disease is to develop genetically resistant wheat varieties. Most modern wheat possesses poor resistance to stripe rust. The project will make use of the genetic diversity in a collection of nearly 650 wheat varieties amassed from around the world in the 1920s, before intensive wheat breeding began.
These so-called 'landraces' produce low yields by modern standards but they represent a potential treasure trove of resistance to stripe rust. The wheat plants will be grown in locations in the home countries of the PhD students and in the UK and assessed for their resilience to stripe rust. The resistance from the best landraces will be bred into modern varieties to produce new high-yielding rust-resistant wheat.
Wild relatives of wheat are another source of valuable diversity. As part of the project, two wild species of goatgrass w
|Contact: Zoe Dunford|
Norwich BioScience Institutes