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New cereal varieties need less pesticide

Scientists from Aarhus University and commercial breeders and leading foreign research institutions will in partnership develop new varieties of wheat that are resistant to a number of devastating fungal diseases. The project has been granted 17 million Danish kroner from Innovation Fund Denmark.

2015.01.14 | Janne Hansen

In collaboration with the industry scientists from Aarhus University are developing new varieties of wheat that are both high-yielding and resistant against several fungal diseases. Photo: Janne Hansen

Wheat is one of the world's most important cereals and feeds millions of people – but attacks from a number of fungal diseases can impair both its quality and yield. The cheapest and most effective method to prevent plant diseases is the cultivation of resistant wheat varieties.

This is why scientists from Aarhus University and plant breeders from Nordic Seed A/S will be developing new high-yielding varieties of wheat that are resistant to the most serious fungal diseases. This will be taking place in a five-year project that has a total budget of 22 million Danish kroner, of which Innovation Fund Denmark is contributing 17 million kroner.

Using varieties that are resistant to several fungal diseases helps reduce the use of pesticides in agriculture for the benefit of the environment and the farmer’s economy. It also means that agriculture is able to comply with the EU directive on implementing integrated pest management, which uses a number of different approaches to protect the plants. The new varieties can moreover be used by organic growers who are not allowed to use fungicides to fight fungal diseases.

- Breeding of high-yielding and disease-resistant cereal crops is essential to reduce crop dependence on pesticides. The large challenge is for the variety to be resistant to all the major fungal diseases in wheat while ensuring that the resistances preserve their effectiveness over the years, says the leader of the new project Professor Mogens Støvring Hovmøller from the Department of Agroecology at Aarhus University.


Wheat and fungi under the microscope

The goal is to develop two to three new high-performance and multi-resistant wheat varieties. An important part of the project is to develop and improve the detection of disease resistance in plants.

The scientists will be using new technologies and sources of resistance, including marker technology and mapping of genes in wheat, to identify and develop new varieties. New insights into the infection biology and variability of fungi are also central to the project. The scientists will be studying the mechanisms underlying the different types of disease resistance both macroscopically and microscopically in order to develop better methods for rapid and efficient selection for resistance.

The scientists and breeders are not starting from scratch. They have not only promising breeding lines of wheat but also a large variety of fungal samples from around the world that they will use in the project.

- We already have some new genetic material with promising resistance to several diseases, which we intend to develop further. We also have access to a large number of fungal isolates from around the world, which we can use in our quarantine laboratories. They are essential for examining the persistence of the new resistance, explained Mogens Støvring Hovmøller.

The five-year project has a total budget of 22 million Danish Kroner, and the Innovation Fund Denmark has granted 17 million kroner. The project is a collaboration between Aarhus University, Nordic Seed A/S and a number of foreign partners.

For further information please contact: Professor Mogens Støvring Hovmøller, Department of Agroecology, e-mail: mogens.hovmoller@agro.au.dk, telephone: +45 8715 8129, mobile: +45 2228 3361