Scientists from the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) led by plant
molecular geneticist Guihua Bai have identified a key gene that could be
used as an important genetic resource by wheat breeders worldwide to address
the constant challenge posed by Fusarium head blight (FHB). Also known as
scab, FHB has caused an estimated US$2.7 billion in losses, in the state of
Minnesota alone since the 1990s, and forced many wheat and barley farmers
there into bankruptcy.
FHB thrives in warm and moist conditions and is now an increasing threat
worldwide due to unpredictable weather patterns brought on by climate
change. Bai and his colleagues showed that the gene TaHRC plays a key role
in conferring wheat resistance to FHB. The researchers confirmed the role
played by the TaHRC gene by "switching it off," which modified the
production of key proteins and significantly increased FHB resistance.