Using genes to counter rust

A newly discovered gene is set to save your lager by reducing the fungicides that control a disease in barley crops, researchers say.

Dr Lee Hickey, of The University of Queensland, led a research project that identified a gene responsible for barley plant resistant to rust, a blight estimated to cause $21 million worth of losses each year in Australia.

“We developed a diagnostic DNA marker for the gene, called Rph20, which is now used by barley breeders around the world,” says Lee, a Research Fellow at the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation, University of Queensland.

“The beauty of this gene is that it is effective against all strains of the disease,” he says.

Leaf rust is a disease that affects barley crops worldwide, caused by a fungus that robs plants of nutrients required to produce grain. The leaves become covered with brown powdery spores, creating the appearance of rust.

Queensland farmers were victim to an outbreak of leaf rust in 2010. Many had to apply fungicides up to four times to save their crops.lee-hickey-feature

In Australia, most barley grain is used to produce beer or to feed cattle. The grain is a critical food source in North African countries like Morocco and Ethiopia.

The research project brought together researchers from The University of Sydney, Queensland’s Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, and the National Agricultural Research Institute in Uruguay, South America.

Queensland State Finalist: Lee Hickey, University of Queensland

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