The Genomic Approaches To Mitigate Fungal Threats To Crops

There is a world food crisis and the limited global forest resources are under threat. Fungal diseases are a major contributor to this serious situation including their significant current and potential impact on crop and forestry losses. In Canada the loss to the wheat crop because of leaf rust fungus can be $100 million annually. There is also a new race of wheat stem rust that threatens wheat production on a global scale. Discovered in Uganda, it is now spreading beyond Africa and could jeopardize the entire Canadian wheat crop, a farm cash value of $4.2 billion in 2007. Further, Sudden Oak Death has caused dramatic losses to oak and other trees in parts of the U.S. and Europe. It now poses a major threat in Canada where the annual value of forestry and logging is $5.28 billion, not considering the potential impact of tree loss on tourism and property value. Overcoming this crisis will require in depth knowledge of the fungi and fungal diseases that will allow for the development of novel ways to combat plant disease.

This proposal incorporates new advances in genome analysis and builds on Canadian research strengths to pursue major advances in our knowledge of fungi and fungi-like organisms causing plant disease. Canadian researchers have been at the forefront of plant disease research, driving genome sequencing initiatives, creating archives of disease organisms, developing novel diagnostic capabilities and introducing new disease resistant plants. The proposed work brings this diverse expertise together in a directed project that capitalizes on recent technological advances making DNA sequence determination more cost effective, along with previous investments in genome sequencing. The pathogens selected for investigation along with their potential economic impact are: 1) Wheat stem rust, potential loss of entire wheat crop, $4.2 billion annually, 2) Wheat leaf rust, losses of up to $100 million annually, 3) Cover smut of barley, model for small grain smuts that result in substantial fungicide treatment costs 4) Common smut of corn, up to 25% crop loss in a given year, corn crop value $1.02 billion, 2007, 5) Sudden Oak Death, threat to the $5.28 billion Canadian forestry industry, and 6) Damping Off, a disease of major impact to ornamental and vegetable bedding plants ($1.48 billion industry in 2007).

The outcome of the proposed scientific research will be primarily databases of knowledge. It is envisioned that this new information will facilitate the development of new means to fight these plant pathogens including the development of targeted fungicides that minimize environmental impact, a multi-species identification platform for detection of pathogens in the environment, novel ways for early screening in plant breeding, and plant varieties with new resistance traits.Integrated, parallel research on the economic and social consequences of a pathogenic food crop or forest attack will significantly enhance the benefit of this scientific research. Understanding this complex issue requires investigating how a fungal attack could undermine the forces for economic growth, determining the best responses to a fungal disease epidemic or disease threat, and identifying limitations in existing public policy and regulations concerning the identification and mitigation of fungal attacks. In the proposed projects, this complex issue will be addressed by Canadian experts and international collaborators who will determine the most economical investments (scientific and social) required to improve prevention, identification, and response to a plant pathogen epidemic.With the new knowledge provided by genomic research as a base, the exchange of ideas among scientists, economists, political scientists, and information and knowledge-sharing systems experts will uncover the means to limit the pervasive, negative economic and social impacts of a fungal attack. These means will include the development of communication and training platforms as well as new policies, regulations, technologies, and processes that will increase Canadian, and international, preparedness for major disease outbreaks.

Wheat Stem Rust
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Wheat Leaf Rust
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Smut of Corn
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Sudden Oak Death
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Root Rot
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Huitlacoche
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