Fighting Grain Diseases Using Modern Methods

Fighting grain diseases using modern methods

October 21, 2021 – The grain industry and UBC are partnering to find out how genome technologies can help prevent pathogens from taking hold in wheat and barley crops in western Canada.

Gurcharn Brar Wheat Grain

Gurcharn Singh Brar

Assistant Professor Gurcharn Singh Brar (Land and Food Systems) and Associate Professor Cara Haney (Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and Canada Research Chair in Plant-Microbiome Interactions) are researching the use of portable genome sequencers to manage microbiome-based diseases in wheat and barley.

Specifically, Brar and Haney will work on rapid pathogen identification and genetic pathogen population characterization, identifying new sources of resistance to wheat tan spot and stripe rust from a global gene bank collection. In addition, they will tackle this issue from the angle of identifying disease suppressive soils (soils rich in beneficial microbiomes that produce natural anti-fungal compounds) for cereal production to help in disease management.

Together, Brar and Haney were awarded an NSERC-Alliance grant valued at $1.7 million over four years. Funding from NSERC is valued at $1.1M and the remaining financial support comes from industry partners Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission (SWDC), Alberta Wheat Commission (AWC), and Saskatchewan Barley Development Commission (SBDC).

In western Canada, there are more than 50,000 wheat and barley growers, generating approximately $7.5 billion annually from the sale of the two crops to other countries. Insect-pests and diseases are significant production problems: an estimated 18% of the potential wheat yield in Canada and Midwestern US is lost to diseases and insect-pests.

This project will focus on the diseases stripe rust and tan spot of wheat, which alone are responsible for 5% of that 18% yield loss.

This is the first time portable genome sequencers and microbiome-based disease management for tan spot and stripe rust of wheat and net blotch of barley have been used in the context of Canadian crop pathology and disease management.

Brar and Haney hope to significantly reduce economic disease-caused loss by developing strategies for disease management that are not only environmentally-friendly but also economical and sustainable.