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article imageTackling wheat rust in Texas

By Tim Sandle     Oct 9, 2015 in Environment
Austin - Wheat is one of the most common grains in the world. The plant is, however, vulnerable to attack from a fungus that causes "rust." A new type of crop has been bred that is resistant to the disease.
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO), wheat is used to provide food to 35 percent of the world’s population. Wheat is therefore of social and economic importance.
Wheat is prone to a fungal disease (caused by the Puccinia genus) that causes stem rust, leaf rust and stripe rust. One area of the world where crops are at the greatest risk is Texas, especially from stripe rust. Stripe rust appears as yellow-colored stripes produced parallel along the venations of each leaf blade. The reason why Texas is particularly vulnerable is because the state warms up earlier than other regions, creating environmental conditions optimal for the fungus. One measure that farmers practice is avoiding early planting, minimizing the use of fertilizers, and avoiding excessive irrigation. However, this puts the state at a disadvantage to other wheat growing regions.
At different periods, epidemics have occurred which have had devastating effects on wheat grown in the state. The last major outbreak was in 2011, requiring $30 million to be spent on assorted fungicides.
These issues have led researchers based at the Soil and Crop Sciences Department at Texas A&M University to develop a new strain of wheat designed to be resistant to the fungus. One motivation for this is because fungicides have proved not to be successful. Fungicides are also expensive and several factors need to be weighed up with their application: susceptibility of varieties, timing of application, individual fungicides, disease pressure, weather conditions, yield potential, and grain price.
The new cultivar of winter wheat is called TAM 305. The strain was developed by making (genetic crosses designed to incorporate the selective genes required for resistance. This was through a natural process, with no artificial genetic engineering involved.
The findings are published in the Journal of Plant Registrations. The paper is called “Registration of ‘TAM 305’ Hard Red Winter Wheat.”
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