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Evolution of the wheat blast fungus through functional losses in a host specificity determinant

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Science  07 Jul 2017:
Vol. 357, Issue 6346, pp. 80-83
DOI: 10.1126/science.aam9654

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Genetic analysis of disease emergence

In the 1980s, wheat crops began to fall to the fungal pathogen that causes blast disease. First seen in Brazil, wheat blast last year caused devastating crop losses in Bangladesh. Inoue et al. tracked down the shifting genetics that have allowed the emergence of this potentially global threat to wheat crops (see the Perspective by Maekawa and Schulze-Lefert). Wheat varieties with a disabled resistance gene were susceptible to pathogen strains that affected oat and ryegrass crops. Subsequent genetic changes in the pathogen amped up the virulence in wheat.

Science, this issue p. 80; see also p. 31

Abstract

Wheat blast first emerged in Brazil in the mid-1980s and has recently caused heavy crop losses in Asia. Here we show how this devastating pathogen evolved in Brazil. Genetic analysis of host species determinants in the blast fungus resulted in the cloning of avirulence genes PWT3 and PWT4, whose gene products elicit defense in wheat cultivars containing the corresponding resistance genes Rwt3 and Rwt4. Studies on avirulence and resistance gene distributions, together with historical data on wheat cultivation in Brazil, suggest that wheat blast emerged due to widespread deployment of rwt3 wheat (susceptible to Lolium isolates), followed by the loss of function of PWT3. This implies that the rwt3 wheat served as a springboard for the host jump to common wheat.

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