How a crop-destroying fungus mutated to infect wheat | Science News

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How a crop-destroying fungus mutated to infect wheat

Genetic analysis traces how pathogen evolved to evade defenses

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8:00am, July 10, 2017
Wheat fungus

BLASTED FUNGUS  Wheat blast fungus (shown here increasingly close up) is a threat to wheat crops worldwide. Researchers have pieced together how the fungus came to to infect wheat.

A wheat strain that let its guard down may have paved the way for a crop-destroying fungus to infect the species.

About 1980, Brazilian farmers began growing a strain of wheat called Anahuac, which is suited to the country’s nonacidic soils. And that, researchers report July 7 in Science, may be when wheat started to lose an arms race with blast fungus (Pyricularia oryzae, also known as Magnaporthe oryzae). Using genetic analysis, the researchers traced how the fungus – which before 1985 was known to infect just rice and some other grains – evolved to infect wheat, too.

Anahuac lacks a functional copy of the Rwt3 gene, which wheat uses to defend itself against the fungus, Yoshihiro Inoue of Kobe University in Japan and colleagues discovered. That gene’s protein recognizes a corresponding protein called PWT3 made by the pathogen. Wheat plants lacking

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