A Wild Approach to Controlling Plant Disease
By: H. Corby Kistler
Head blight (HB) is a major disease of wheat and barley worldwide caused by a fungus known as Fusarium. HB is a complex problem not only because disease and yield loss must be considered, but also because the fungus causes a spoilage product, called vomitoxin, to accumulate in grain, rendering it undesirable for use as food and feed. A new publication from the Kistler Lab (Lofgren et al., 2018. New Phytologist 217: 1203–1212) shows that the HB Fusarium may also infect related wild relatives of wheat and barley found in North America including three species of wild rye and a wild barley species. Fusarium fails to cause disease when it infects these wild relatives and only trace amounts of vomitoxin accumulate. This research expands ways to control HB and vomitoxin accumulation by the discovery of new sources of plant resistance that could be replicated in agricultural crops.