Wild genes prove perfect protection for modern grains

Wild genes prove perfect protection for modern grains

HARVESTING genes from wild grain varieties and introducing them into domestic crops to protect against a plethora of pests is the result of a recent research collaboration that spanned the globe.

An alliance of researchers from Australia, the US and Britain has created a new method to use genes from wild plants for transfer into domestic crops with disease- fighting capabilities.

The technique, known as AgRenSeq, was created at the John Innes Centre in the UK and has the capacity to accelerate the fight against crop-damaging pathogens that threaten global food crops such as soya beans, wheat, rice, maize and potatoes.

The new technology could underpin discovery of disease resistance in plants.

Researchers would be able to use laboratory techniques to clone genes found in wild relatives of modern crops, before introducing them to modern crops to protect them against pests and pathogens such as rusts, powdery mildew and Hessian fly.

John Innes Centre crop genetics project leader Brande Wulff said researchers had found ways of scanning the genome of wild crop plants to pick out resistance genes that were needed — and in record time.

“This used to be a process that took 10 or 15 years and was like searching for a needle in a haystack,” Dr Wulff said.

“We have perfected the method so that we can clone these genes in a matter of months, and for just thousands of dollars instead of millions.”