“We are well prepared to tackle wheat stem rust”

In a conversation with BioSpectrum, Dr Indu Sharma, project director, Directorate of Wheat Research, spoke about the efforts to tackle Ug99 and the role of biotechnology in wheat research


Ug99 is a lineage of wheat stem rust, a type of wheat plant disease present in the fields across Africa and Middle East. It is predicted to spread rapidly through these regions and further to India and its neighboring countries, thereby causing a wheat production disaster that would affect food security.

In response to this growing concern, the Directorate of Wheat Research (DWR), Karnal, a nodal institute of Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR), has been working on many aspects by facilitating planning, exchange of experimental material, monitoring the trials or activities, data compilation and documentation of the wheat research.

Q: Tell us more about the buzz created by Ug99 and how is it going to affect India? What efforts are being undertaken to tackle this?
Ug99 and its variants differ from other strains of the Black Stem Rust (BSR) pathogen due to their ability to overcome resistance genes in wheat that have been durable against the BSR pathogen for decades. The research results from affected countries have shown that Ug99 can cause up to 100 percent crop losses and is virulent against varieties, which have previously protected the wheat against stem rust disease.

Now, it is being feared that the disease may spread to Asia, utilizing the same migratory route that was followed by the stripe rust resistant gene Yr9 from Africa to Asia and caused major epidemics across the epidemiological region of South Asia. Since this race (of Ug99) was detected in Iran in 2007, now the fear is that it may move into India over a period of time.

Therefore at the global level, the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI), funded by the UK Department for International Development and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to combat deadly strains of Ug99, has been partnered, among others, by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Nepalese Agricultural Research Council (NARC), CIMMYT (Spain's International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center), International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA), the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and Hyderabad-based Sathguru Management Consultants. Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat (DRRW) project will support attempts to identify new resistance genes as well as reproduce and distribute rust resistant wheat seeds to farmers.


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