News item

Re-emergence of stem rust on wheat in Western Europe

In a commentary in Communication Biology, published 4th February 2019, scientists evaluate the risks of re-emergence of wheat stem rust in Europe. In general, the wheat rust “problems” in Europe have been addressed via multiple national initiatives, but in 2018, a new EU H2020 research and innovation program was launched, dealing with all three rust diseases on wheat

Figure 1. Recovery and diagnosis of samples of wheat stem rust in GRRC quarantine facilities. Photo by Mehran Patpour

In a commentary in Communication Biology published February 4th 2019 scientists evaluate the risks of re-emergence of wheat stem rust in Europe. Stem rust has been insignificant or absent on wheat in Western Europe for more than 60 years, which is an enormous success story driven by insights in pathogen biology, breeding for disease resistance and a comprehensive program to eradicate the alternate host, common barberry (Berberis vulgaris). Then, in 2013, pathologists raised the alarm about the re-emergence of the stem rust on wheat at multiple locations in Germany, followed by outbreaks on durum wheat and bread wheat in Sicily in 2016, and in the autumn of 2017, new outbreaks of stem rust was observed on late sown spring wheat in Sweden.

The rust problem on wheat and other cereals is most effectively addressed via international collaboration due to the aerial spread of rust fungi. Thus, the launch of RustWatch in 2018, a new European early-warning system for wheat rust diseases, was highly timely. The initiative engages 12 universities and research institutes, 5 agricultural advisory services, and 7 industrial partners in 13 European countries.

The main drivers shaping the new European wheat rust populations and the impact of new invasive rust races on agricultural productivity are explored via intensified collaboration among rust diagnostic labs in UK, France, Germany, Poland, Czech Republic and Denmark, private European plant breeding companies and agricultural advisory services, and variety testing institutions. The project is developing new approaches for the detection of host resistance genes by integrating molecular diagnostic tools with refined laboratory inoculation and microscopy techniques, and off-season assessment of the impact of new rust races on rust susceptibility of host varieties and breeding lines.

The project is also developing new online research and communication infrastructures taking advantage of stakeholder networks and expertise, and collaboration via existing global networks.

In the near future, the prevalence of rust races in Europe in 2018 will be published on and associated web-sites, and an impact assessment of subsets of these on more than 200 European wheat lines are in progress. Otherwise, 2019 will be the first crop season, where all early-warning activities are in place, including coordinated field trials in multiple countries, where detailed assessment of new solutions for the control of rust diseases will be assessed.

Disease surveillance, race phenotyping and genotyping results are available on maps and charts from the the GRRC website.

Yellow Rust Tools - maps and charts

Stem Rust Tools - maps and charts

Correspondence and requests regarding the Commentary in Communications Biology:

Correspondance and requests regarding RustWatch and the Global Rust Reference Center (GRRC):

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