Seed World

New Hope for Fighting Fungal Disease in Durum Wheat

A variety of wheat that is resistant to a destructive fungal disease has specialized and protective cell walls, according to research published in BMC Plant Biology. These insights could help produce stronger, disease-resistant varieties of durum wheat.
Fusarium head blight is a fungal disease that affects worldwide wheat production due to dramatic yield loss, and reduced grain quality from toxins make it unsuitable for consumption. While several studies have looked at FHB disease resistance in common wheat, little is known about durum wheat.
“Breeding disease-resistant varieties of durum wheat is probably the best economic and ecological strategy for fighting this invasive and destructive disease,” says Daniela Bellincampi of Sapienza Università di Roma, Italy, and lead author. “Unfortunately, this is particularly challenging due to a lack of highly disease-resistant varieties that are available to use in breeding programs.”
The researchers compared a disease-resistant variety of common wheat and a susceptible variety of durum wheat. To do this, they infected both with the fungus, and then compared the detailed characteristics of their cell walls.
The researchers identified a new gene, WheatPME1 that can play a role in changing the chemical structure of pectin ― the adhesive component of the plant cell wall. They found that, during infection, the gene had different levels of activity in the FHB-resistant and susceptible varieties.
The researchers hope that the identification of these unique cell wall traits in FHB-resistant common wheat could help in breeding durum wheat varieties that are able to defend themselves against infection, and reduce fungal toxin contamination in food.