Periodic Reporting for period 2 - CEREALPATH (CEREALPATH - Training in innovative and integrated control of cereal diseases)
Reporting period: 2017-09-01 to 2019-12-31
Cereals, including wheat, maize and rice, are the most important source of human calories. Diseases reduce both the yield and food safety of cereal grains and compromise food security. Improving plant disease resistance has to be a top priority if we are to improve food productivity in order to feed the world population in 2050. We lose billions of Euro worth of grain annually to diseases, particularly those caused by fungi.
We need new weapons in the fight against cereal diseases: CerealPath brings together the people with the expertise to develop these tools.
The principal objective of CerealPath is to use a multi-disciplinary, multi-sectoral team to train Early Stage Researchers (ESRs) in the broad spectrum of skills and competencies necessary to innovate in the field of sustainable cereal production. In order to achieve this, CerealPath brings together academic, industrial and regulatory expertise from eight European countries, to stimulate innovation in the field of integrated disease control and fill the gap in this field that has evolved due to the decline in national, EU and global educational resources. The research projects focused on gene discovery and breeding , biological and bioactive disease control and trade-off and pathogen evolution. All three areas underpin integrated and sustainable disease control and intensification of farming.
Conclusions of the Action:
The research programmes carried out by the ESRs of the CerealPath project have materially contributed to the field of integrated plant disease control, which include identification of disease resistance genes and markers, development of new biological disease control strategies and understanding cereal-pathogen interactions.
The ESRs have emerged not only as experts in their own area of research but also the Action has additionally given access to the highest quality training in their respective fields, ensured a spirit of innovation at the outset of the programme, provided an appreciation and understanding of the wider field of integrated disease control, given them hands-on experience in a relevant industry setting, provided industrial awareness, and has facilitated high inter-sectoral and geographic mobility.
The Action began in September 2015, with the initials steps being: finalising of the Consortium Agreement, the development of an online presence, and recruitment and induction of ESRs to the Action. A total of five network-wide training events and three symposia took place over the course of the Action. These training events included theoretical and practical training on Cereal pathology - current practices and advances in disease control and workshops on Agriculture and Society, and Development and sustainable use of Biologicals and Bioactives for disease control.
In addition to training in these areas, the ESRs worked on individual projects associated with the research strands of the project:
For the Gene Discovery and Breeding strand, we have identified several candidate genes for important plant disease resistance. Using the state-of-the-art gene technologies, we have identified and characterised resistance genes and genetic markers for Fusarium head blight, Fusarium root rot and leaf rust in wheat and model plant Brachypodium. These genes and markers will serve as important tools in the development of disease resistance wheat cultivars.
Within the Bioactive and Biological Control strand, the Action has characterised several endophytes that showed potential for control of Septoria tritici blotch, Fusarium seedling blight, Fusarium head blight, Take-All and net blotch in wheat and barley. Bioactive compounds were also studied for their potential to control cereal diseases and were found to be effective against Septoria tritici blotch and Fusarium head blight. We also studied the potential of using RNAi technology for cereal disease control. We identified several sRNA candidates which have potential to be used for control of Septoria tritici blotch and Fusarium diseases in wheat and barley.
For the Pathogen Evolution and Trade-Off strand, we studied the dual role of genes that confer resistance or susceptibility to diseases. Wheat plants with Lr34 gene were resistant to rust and powdery mildew but were highly susceptible to blast.The mutant gene mlo conferred resistance to or mildew in wheat while it susceptibile to Ramularia leaf spot. Furthermore, new resistance genes and pathogen effectors were identified for Septoria triciti blotch in wheat. The evolution of disease resistance genes was also studied in silico to have a better understanding of host and pathogen evolution.
The research outcome of the projects will form the basis for the development of new strategies and technologies for integrated cereal disease management and sustainable food production. The scientific outputs from the Action were disseminated via peer-reviewed publications, book chapters, technical reports, presentations at national and international conferences, and outreach activities using several platforms such as exhibits, school visits and media.
Achieving this broad-reaching goal required very detailed individual steps but by bringing them together, this was achieved. The Action not only contributed to a greater understanding of plant-pathogen interaction and more sustainable and robust plant disease management strategies, it will also contribute to breeding programmes that will allow for the development of crops that require fewer resources and be less prone to yield loss as a result of biotic and abiotic stresses. This will have a direct beneficial economic effect at local, European and global levels. Among other effects, it will ensure ongoing security of food supply; allow farmers to provide food to an ever increasing population in a sustainable way, that is of benefit to both the farmer and the consumer; it will allow for reduced resource input into an already intensive economic activity, thus reducing the burden on nature.