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article imageDeadly crop killing fungus reaches Asia

By Tim Sandle     May 19, 2016 in Environment
A fungus that causes considerable damage to crops has reached Asia. Microbiologists are attempting to determine the origin of the recent Bangladesh outbreak, through the use of a digital platform.
A wheat-blast outbreak has already caused the loss of more than 15,000 hectares of crops in Bangladesh. Researchers think the fungus that causes the disease has come from Brazil. However, gene sequencing will be required in order to prove this.
Following rice, wheat is the second most important cereal crop in Bangladesh. To date the disease has caused 90 percent yield loss.
Wheat blast is a potent fungal disease of wheat. The disease was discovered in Paraná State of Brazil in 1985. Around this time, the fungus spread rapidly through South America, infecting some 3 million hectares leading to serious crop losses. The disease reached the U.S. in 2011, with the first case in Kentucky. There is an association with incidences and hot and humid spells.
The causative pathogen is Magnaporthe oryzae. However, with this fungus is solely responsible or whether there are other related strains is uncertain. Infected wheat develops white to gray-green lesions or spots. In time the lesions become elliptical, with whitish to gray with necrotic borders. In many cases the lesions enlarge and coalesce to kill the entire leaf.
To help assess where the disease ravaging the wheat of Bangladesh has come from U.K. and Bangladeshi scientists have made raw genetic data for the wheat blast pathogen available on a new website — Open Wheat Blast — and they are calling on other researchers to add their data. The intention is to create a digital hub for information, collaboration and comment.
Interviewed by the science site Nature, Sophien Kamoun, a biologist at the Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich, U.K., stated: “It’s important to know what the strain is.” Such information is key to determining the origin, and such information is necessary to prevent further cases of the imported contaminant as well as helping to tackle the current problem in Bangladesh. To date it appears as if the strains isolated from Bangladesh group tightly with all known wheat blast strains from Brazil.
Ultimately, to combat the disease, rapid response capabilities and effective mitigation measures are needed. Such measures include assessing whether certain strains of wheat are resistant (or at least less susceptible) to the fungus. Genetic information is necessary to make this happen and the attempt to form a global digital platform for this process points the way forwards to new ways for sharing scientific research.
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