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Research Areas

The CerealPath research programme is designed to improve our ability to control the most devastating diseases of cereals, including root diseases, leaf diseases, stem diseases and head diseases. While the majority of projects focus on controlling wheat disease, some also focus on improving our ability to control barley diseases, and the underpinning training is applicable to the broad arena of crop protection. Each research project will focus on one of the programmes themes, namely gene discovery and breeding , biological and bioactive disease control or trade-off and pathogen evolution. All three areas underpin integrated and sustainable disease control and sustainable intensification of farming.

Gene discovery and breeding

Within the gene discovery and breeding research area, our Early Stage Researchers will work to identify and deploy disease resistance genes. The programme benefits from state-of-the-art technology and expertise in cereal genomics, bioinformatics and functional plant biology, combined with the field and applied expertise of the breeding industry.

Breeding new cereal varieties that are resistant to diseases is the most environmentally sustainable method of disease control currently permitted in Europe. Developing crops and crop mixtures with resistance that endures over time and space in the face of disease pressure ("durable disease resistance") is the quest of plant breeders, biotech companies and agricultural scientists.

For many diseases, there is a continual need to identify new genes for disease resistance, as their durability will be limited by the high genetic variability and adaptability of the pathogens that cause the diseases. So far, relatively few resistance genes have been cloned but, over the last decade we have gained great insights into host defence responses and powerful tools now exist to rapidly advance this task enable innovation in disease resistance breeding.

There are 5 Early Stage Researcher (Doctoral) positions associated with this research area

ESR1: Characterisation of a European stem rust race and identification of its effector complement by mutational genomics

ESR2: Genomic prediction of Fusarium head blight resistance in adapted bread/durum wheat germplasm

ESR3: Development of molecular markers for Fusarium head blight resistance breeding

ESR4: Identification of resistance genes to take-all and Fusarium root rot in wheat

ESR5: Genetic diversity and functional analysis of adult wheat leaf rust resistance genes

Biological and bioactive disease control

The biological and bioactive disease control research programme will train six Early Stage Researchers to identify and optimise biological and bioactive agents for disease control.

The benefits from state-of-the-art technology and expertise in cereal genomics, bioinformatics and functional biology expertise, combined with the field and applied expertise of the breeding, seed production and bioactive product industries.

Microorganisms and a range of other biologically active products offer an environmentally-friendly, complimentary approach to breeding for disease control. Most bioactives and biologicals control disease by either activation of host defense responses or direct anti-pathogen activity. Several bacteria have been commercialised for the biological control of cereal diseases. European examples are limited, mostly due to the fact that many of those effective in the lab do not give consistent results at field trials across a range of environments. For this reason, there is an increasing interest in identifying more environmentally stable microorganisms for disease control.

There are 6 Early Stage Researcher (Doctoral) positions associated with this research area

ESR6: Integrated control of wheat foliar diseases using biocontrol agents and silicon

ESR7: The effect of host genotype on the efficacy of beneficial microorganisms in controlling foliar cereal disease

ESR8: Isolation and characterisation of novel fungal root endophytes from wild relatives of barley and wheat for resistance to Fusarium and Gaeumannomyces

ESR9: Evaluation and development of a citrus-derived bioactive for the control of root and head diseases of cereals

ESR10: RNA-based control of fungal root diseases of cereals

ESR11: Host-induced gene silencing (HIGS) as a biotechnological and natural tool for controlling barley diseases

Trade-off and pathogen evolution

The trade-off and pathogen evolution research area will train our Early Stage Researchers to determine the relationship between disease resistance and trade-off (negative effects on other diseases or plant yield), in order to identify new broad-spectrum resistance genes and to determine if a better understanding of pathogen evolution can help guide smarter breeding and more selective crop genotype deployment practices.

Training and research in this area will benefit from the collective expertise of academia, agency and industry in population dynamics, modelling, breeding, molecular biology, evolutionary biology and genetic engineering.

<>pThe fitness of a plant in terms of yield and environmental adaptation can be altered due to the introgression of disease resistance genes, particularly those that affect fundamental plant regulatory networks. Over millennia, farmers and breeders have selected for disease resistance genes that minimise the economic cost of defence.

Research on plant disease control adds greatly to our knowledge of fundamental plant processes and plant-microbe interactions, but it is often dissociated from the field situation where the most important parameter is to obtain consistently high yields from season to season. Having identified new control methods, it is important that a cereal pathology training programme underlines the importance of determining if there are trade-off effects with respect to either plant development, susceptibility to other diseases, or pathogen adaptability.

There are 4 Early Stage Researcher (Doctoral) positions associated with this research area

ESR12: Assessing the trade-off effects of the mildew resistance mlo locus in barley

ESR13: Assessing the epidemiological and agronomic impact of germplasm genetically enhanced to resist Septoria tritici blotch

ESR 14: Identification and characterisation of Zymoseptoria tritici fungal effectors

ESR15: Identification of broad-spectrum resistance genes Overview

This page was last updated on 4th September 2015