NIAB EMR, in a joint UK-China research programme, has discovered several strains of the strawberry disease Verticillium wilt (Verticillium dahliae), belonging to two different groups, that act in very different ways. The results are already being used by plant breeders in the development of a new generation of wilt resistant varieties.
Plant pathologist Rong Fan identified two fungal strains from two distinct vegetative compatibility groups – meaning that there is very limited genetic exchange between them. Each strain of the fungus has a different mechanism by which it infects the host plant, with one of the strains producing more symptoms than the other.
Verticillium wilt, a soil-borne disease, has been a major economic disease for strawberry growers around the world (as well as infecting at least another 200 crops) and a major driver for growers to switch to substrate production bags rather than growing in soil.
Dr Richard Harrison, Head of Genetics, Genomics and Breeding at NIAB EMR in Kent, says, “Our strawberry breeding programme produces globally important new varieties. Key to the successful export of these varieties, which bring intellectual property (IP) revenues back to the UK, is the plant’s ability to resist economically important diseases such as Verticillium wilt. Using this exciting new knowledge, published in the journal PLOS ONE, we can choose the right parents, within our breeding programmes, to generate the next generation of wilt-resistant varieties for a worldwide market.”
Ms Fan, a visiting researcher at NIAB EMR from China’s Northwest A&F University as part of the Building High Level University Program initiative of the China Scholarship Council (CSC), says, “Verticillium wilt is known to be a very variable disease. With this new knowledge researchers have been able to go back over their historic pathogen collections and determine that the two ‘groups’ have always been present. The next step will be to determine if the two strains can be identified separately in the field.”
The recent collaboration between NIAB EMR and Northwest A&F University, builds on BBSRC-funded research looking at the genetic basis of Verticillium wilt within the IDRIS initiative (Improving Disease Resistance in Strawberry).