WA researchers target key plant pathogen

By Dylan Bushell-Embling
Wednesday, 19 June, 2013

Murdoch University researchers have uncovered an environmentally friendly way to address the significant threat to crop yields posed by root lesion nematodes.

The researchers have developed a method for using gene-silencing technology to control the plant pathogens.

Research team leader Professor Mike Jones, a member of Murdoch’s Plant Biotechnology Research Group, said root legion nematodes are a hidden but major economic drain on the global agriculture sector.

“Root lesion nematodes are major pests of agricultural, horticultural and industrial crops such as sugarcane. They invade and damage plant roots, making the plants susceptible to water and nutrient stress,” he said.

“Not only do they rob host plants of essential nutrients while feeding, but they create entry wounds that leave plant roots susceptible to attack by fungi and bacteria in the soil.”

The pathogens are responsible for a roughly 15% reduction in yields for key crops including wheat and barley, yet many farmers may not even be aware of the problem, Professor Jones added.

The team’s method involves switching off certain genes in crop plants to block off the formation of proteins needed for the nematodes to complete their life cycles.

A key advantage of this method is that it is clean. “If we are to adequately feed a global population expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, we need to find and develop environmentally sound methods that don’t damage our soil or threaten water quality,” Professor Jones said. “Our research is one step in that direction.”

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