Stripe and leaf rusts are two of the most damaging diseases for cereal crops, particularly wheat, in western Canada. In British Columbia, wheat is very important to Peace River Region growers, where approximately 210,000 acres of land is used to produce cereals that generate over $60M in sales.
There is a growing demand for winter wheat in the Lower Mainland for forage and cover crops, however winter wheat is more prone to stripe rust in the Lower Mainland due to climatic factors. Currently, producers plant rust disease-resistant wheat varieties and use expensive, harmful fungicides for disease control. However, novel fungal races that have evolved to defeat these resistant wheat cultivars and evolved disease variants have now migrated into BC and Canada from the US.
With this research, Dr. Gurcharn Brar from UBC and Dr. Guus Bakkeren from Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada want to generate a comprehensive picture of the rust populations in Canada in relation to those in the US. The team will use genome sequences they have generated to develop fast, DNA-based diagnostic assays to distinguish between the lineages and sub-populations of rust varieties and create an inventory of the virulence genes in these lineages to fine-tune the assays. This will allow for quick identification of novel introductions and an assessment of potential threats to the various wheat cultivars.
The developed assays can be used by others, including commercial diagnostic labs monitoring traps that catch fungal spores. Wind trajectory models based on regularly generated Environment and Climate Change Canada data for BC will be included to assist with projections for risks of rust disease spread. With these projections and data, producers using Integrated Pest Management methods can make better informed decisions based on pathogen presence or risk forecasting. Eventually, this information can be sent to interested producers via smart phone apps.