Evaluation of exogenous dsRNA application for species-specific control of fusarium

  • Term: Two years, beginning in 2016

  • Funding Amount: $85,563

  • Lead Researcher(s): Shawn Clark (NRC)

  • Funding Partners: Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture - Agriculture Development Fund (ADF)

Project Description

The aim of this project will be to determine if synthetic dsRNA can be used for the control and prevention of FHB in wheat.

As with previous work using dsRNA to control insect pests and plant viruses this work will aim to provide a cost effective alternative to traditional chemical treatments with a reduced environmental impact due to the ability to target specific species through the careful selection of appropriate target genes. Because dsRNA should pose no threat to human health, it may also be possible to apply it to crops later in the growing season compared to traditional fungicides.

FHB is a costly disease affecting both yield and quality of wheat grain. Mycotoxins produced by the fungi also represent a risk to human health and the presence of increasing concentrations of toxins such as deoxynivalenol reduces the value of the grain and limits the markets available. There are considerable investments being made within Saskatchewan and across Canada to increase our understanding of FHB. Much of this work is centered on identifying sources of FHB resistance in new or existing germplasm and developing strategies to incorporate these into elite lines, often through the use of marker-assisted breeding. In the long term these strategies will likely be fruitful, however, it will take a considerable period of time to introduce effective resistance into Canadian elite lines. Even the introduction of Fhb1, the best characterized and strongest FHB resistance QTL identified to date in wheat, gives only an incremental improvement to FHB tolerance in susceptible backgrounds.

This project will attempt to bring the benefits of RNAi technology to Canadian wheat crops without the use of GMO technology. The goal of this project is to provide strong FHB resistance in susceptible crops without the use of genetic modification. As with other RNA silencing based strategies, this approach would be highly specific and have a low risk of ecological impact beyond the target pathogen. The specificity and safety of dsRNA treatment would compare very favorably with characteristics of fungicides presently on the market. Because this approach is independent from plant genotype it should be deployable immediately in wheat cultivars across Canada where FHB pressure has become a concern.

This project is specifically targeted to prevent wheat losses through biotic stress by preventing the initiation and spread of F. graminearum infection through the plant.