Wheat field

A mechanism has been identified which could lead to healthier wheat crops worldwide.

A team at UK-based Rothamsted Research set out to find out why some plants develop resistance to Septoria leaf blotch, a highly damaging disease in wheat.

Most studies have looked directly at the interaction between wheat and Septoria but scientists at Rothamsted Research, funded by the BBSRC, looked at how plant species that do not get infected by Septoria achieve their resistance.

Using tobacco plants and advanced molecular techniques, the scientists identified several genes linked to protection against infection.

They found that genes for many of the secreted proteins, called ‘effectors’, used by Septoria to manipulate defences of its host plant wheat, were also expressed when the fungus was inoculated onto the tobacco. When the fungal effectors were expressed in tobacco leaves, they were recognised by the plant, stimulating defence reactions.

Gene-silencing methods allowed the researchers to demonstrate that two tobacco genes in particular were involved in triggering plant responses following recognition of effectors secreted by the pathogen.

Dr Kostya Kanyuka, a senior scientist at Rothamsted Research and co-author of the paper, said: “This interesting finding suggests that non-host plants may possess specific cell surface immune receptors recognising Septoria effectors and this opens up avenues for the development of new methods to protect susceptible wheat plants from Septoria.”