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Ergot resistance

Ergot resistance and genetic analysis of early events determining tissue susceptibility in the Claviceps purpurea - wheat interaction

Contact: Donal O’Sullivan

The need for safe and nutritious wheat is as important as ever. The aim of this project is to gain an understanding of the interaction between the alkaloid producing plant pathogen Claviceps purpurea and its host hexaploid wheat. Claviceps forms a fungal body called an ergot in the place of a wheat grain following infection of the flower. Ergots contain high levels of extremely toxic alkaloids and pose a risk to humans and animals when ingested hence a zero tolerance level for wheat entering the human food chain and strict levels allowed for sale of grain for feed. Levels of ergots found in seed lots have been increasing over recent years which is driving the need for this research.

In order to understand the fundamental biology of the interaction during the infection process, we will extract and measure relative abundance of the expressed genes from a set of very specific tissues of the infected wheat flower over a time course that identifies the key stages of Claviceps infection along with an uninfected control. Claviceps hyphae grow through the same tissues of the wheat flower as the growing pollen tube during pollination so we propose to include the pollen-flower interactions in the analysis. We will identify set of genes that are up and down regulated in response to either pollen and or hyphal growth and will identify common signals involved in perception and response.

There is no chemical that can be deployed to defend against infection by Claviceps, so natural resistance to this pathogen must be exploited in any long-term sustainable control strategy. Partial resistance has been identified for a UK wheat variety and there is also source of near complete resistance identified in durum wheat, and we intend to locate the genes conferring these traits and to compare their location with those of genes whose expression appears to correlate in time and space with the expression of resistance. Additional evidence for or against the putative role of genes of interest in determining resistance will be gained by using genetic modification to increase or decrease expression of specific candidates.

Funding: BBSRC responsive mode grant with Defra as co-sponsor under the Government Partnership Award scheme.

Collaborating Institutions: University of Cambridge (Dr. Jim Haseloff) and University of Bristol (Dr. Gary Barker) are BBSRC-funded partners on the project and other collaborators include Dr. Jim Menzies (Agri-Food, Canada), Prof. Renato D’Ovidio (University of Tuscia, Viterbo) and Prof. Paul Tudzynski (University of Muenster).