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Agricultural researchers get $13M to help fight virulent wheat stem rust


Ottawa, ON – $13 million in funding is being provided to combat a newly spreading type of wheat stem rust by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

This strain of wheat stem rust, known as Ug99, was discovered in Uganda in 1999, and is spreading slowly east across Africa, into Yemen and Sudan. The fungus is expected to reach Egypt, Turkey, the Middle East and India, and scientists agree that it is only a matter of time before Ug99 reaches the crops of North America.

Current Canadian and international commercial wheat varieties have little or no resistance to this rust species. Should the rust become established in Canada it would devastate the Canadian cereals sector a situation that had serious economic consequences for Canada during previous cereal rust outbreaks in the last century.

The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) is providing leadership for the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative that has concluded to date that only 0.3% of the more than 44 million hectares planted with known varieties of wheat has moderate resistance to Ug99. AAFC scientists will continue to work within the international Global Rust Initiative to share information and exchange germplasm where appropriate.

The Canadian funding will be used to develop new varieties of wheat resistant to the fungus, and will lead to a greater understanding of the biology of the fungus, and will make a major contribution to international efforts to combat Ug99.

The initiative builds on ongoing work on wheat rust (a major focus of the Cereal Research Centre, Winnipeg since 1916), with collaboration from Canadian universities, but with a new urgency to discover new sources of resistance, given the threat of Ug99.

It will be used to research the genetics and pathology of Ug99 and similar virulent strains of wheat stem rust caused by the fungal pathogen Puccinia graminis. Furthermore, scientists will strive to develop new wheat germplasm that is resistant to Ug99 and other emerging pathotypes.

The funds will be used for research support, salaries of AAFC researchers dedicated to the project, and for infrastructure. While the initiative is four years in duration, preliminary research has already begun.

Nobel Prize winner and chair of the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative, Dr Norman Borlaug, commended Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada on supporting wheat rust research, calling it an “important action to protect the wheat crop in North America and worldwide.” He added that the funding “is a major step forward in our efforts to stem the global threat of wheat rust.”