Fighting yellow rust in our sustainable innovation agenda

Discover the latest advances in project WhYRust, regarding fungal epidemiology and population structure studies, data collection and model validation of a warning system, and identification of wheat genes involved in YR resistance.

Supporting the Portuguese wheat breeding program in the climate change scenario is the purpose of the WhYRust project. Yellow rust (YR), caused by Puccinia striiformis f. sp. tritici (Pst), is one of the most destructive diseases for wheat (Triticum ssp.), with global annual losses of US$ 979 million. Planting resistant cultivars is the most effective, economic, and environmental-friendly way to control diseases. Among other things, WhYRust aims to identify the wheat’s genome areas associated with resistance or susceptibility to YR, a major threat to this cereal.

InnovPlantProtect, namely through its Department of Protection of Specific Crops – Department 2, leads this project, with the participation of INIAV Elvas and ITQB NOVA, and the collaboration of ANPOC and CERSUL. We are (1) studying the fungus epidemiology in Portugal, evaluating the fungal pathogenesis mechanisms by (2) sequencing the fungus genome, (3) investigating its transcriptome during plant interaction and (4) proteome of secreted proteins under conditions of low versus high temperature, (5) performing genome-wide association studies to identify resistance genes in the plant, and (6) developing genomic prediction models through machine learning in order to support precision breeding.

As far as fungal epidemiology and population structure studies are concerned, the quarantine enforced by COVID-19 in the first trimester of 2020 imposed some difficulties, but some wheat infected leaves were sampled in the 2019/2020 season. New sampling will be performed for the 2020/2021 season. Collected spores are being used to isolate single pustules, which will be further used to identify the specific fungus races.

Germination of YR fungus spores (called urediniospores) in vitro conditions (by Miguel Teixeira and Cláudia Rato)
Sampling app, by iLaria Marengo

InPP’s Department 2 is also collaborating with Department 4 (Monitoring and Diagnosis). Portuguese agronomists are going to be trained on data collection and model validation of a yellow rust warning system. The goal is to use Open Data Kit (ODK), an open source software for (android) mobile devices that uses a form designed by InPP (Dep. 4) to collect data in the field and offline. The submission of the data to the InPP server is made once back to the office, when Internet connectivity is available. The app not only speeds up the data collection but also improves its management and accessibility.

Regarding the identification of wheat genes involved in YR resistance, the first field trial for the evaluation of disease symptoms in a panel of 250 wheat accessions of INIAV’s breeding pool has been sown in the INIAV Elvas field. The crop of common or bread wheat (Triticum aestivum) is checked by the team every week, to remove weeds and check accessions status.

Disease evaluation will begin as soon as first symptoms develop. Image analysis of infected leaves will be performed to identify the percentage of pustules per leaf. This experiment will be performed in three consecutive years, and the data will be used to access the genetic and phenotypic variability within this panel and for future genome-wide association studies.

Field work by researchers Miguel Teixeira, Asmae Jlilat, Ana Miguel Reis, Diana Acácio, Flavio Storino, Diana Sousa and Hadi Sheikhnejad

For 2021, we also expect the most prevalent YR fungus race will have its genome sequenced and potential virulent factors will be identified by in silico analysis.

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