Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists and their colleagues have discovered a gene that can be used to develop varieties of wheat that will be more resistant to Fusarium Head Blight (FHB), a disease that is a major threat both overseas and to the nation’s $10 billion annual wheat crop, reports the USDA-ARS.
A paper reporting the discovery and the cloning of the gene, known as Fhb7, was published today in the journal Science. The study was led by scientists at the Shandong Agricultural University in Shandong, China and co-authors include ARS researchers Guihua Bai and Lanfei Zhao in Manhattan, KS, and Steven Xu in Fargo, ND.
The discovery is a major advance in addressing a significant threat to the world’s wheat supply. FHB, also known as “scab,” is caused by a fungal pathogen, Fusarium graminearum, and results in significant losses in the United States, China, Canada, Europe, and many other countries. It also attacks barley and oats. When the pathogen grows unchecked in infected grains, it releases mycotoxins that can induce vomiting in humans, as well as weight loss in livestock when they refuse to eat the grains. The prevalence and severity of FHB outbreaks also could potentially be exacerbated by climate change and varying weather conditions, and by an increasing trend toward more corn production and no-till farming, which both may be increasing the prevalence of the pathogen in fields. Growers often must use fungicides to reduce FHB damage.