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CSIRO Helps Unmask A Devastating Crop Disease

White heads caused by Fusarium crown rot of wheat. Image credit - CSIRO
by Staff Writers
Canberra, Australia (SPX) Mar 23, 2010
As part of an international consortium, CSIRO scientists have played an important role in uncovering groundbreaking new information about Fusarium - a fungus capable of devastating cereal crops. The consortium showed that a disease-causing Fusarium can transfer part of its DNA to a normally benign Fusarium, turning it into a virulent pathogen.

"Fusarium fungi are among the most destructive plant pathogens in the world and cause billions of dollars worth of losses in Australia and overseas every year," says the leader of the CSIRO Plant Industry team involved in the research, Dr Kemal Kazan.

"By sequencing the DNA of Fusarium oxysporum and Fusarium verticillioides, and comparing them with that of Fusarium graminearum, our research consortium has been able to discover the innovative ways these fungi can change themselves."

Fusarium graminearum affects wheat and barley and Fusarium oxysporum attacks many crops including cotton, tomato and banana. Fusarium verticilloides is a major corn pathogen.

"Having a better understanding of which weapons Fusarium fungi use to attack crops will enable researchers to find new remedies to apply in agriculture," Dr Kazan said.

Dr Kazan's team has already started decoding the DNA of Fusarium pseudograminearum - the crown rot pathogen - which costs Australian wheat and barley farmers $79 million in lost yield annually.

CSIRO's part in the sequencing of Fusarium oxysporum closely follows the organisation's key role in mapping the pea aphid - one of a group of pests that also devastates crops around the world.

The consortium's findings are published in the leading scientific journal, Nature.

Approaching disease problems through local research and international collaborations is part of CSIRO's commitment to future food security and agricultural sustainability for Australia.

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