Foliar diseases, such as rust and yellow spot, are common and geographically widespread across the Australian wheat belt and worldwide. To accelerate the discovery of new sources of genetic resistance, the HickeyLab has developed innovative phenotyping methods that are adapted to speed breeding conditions. This enables rapid disease screening all year round. Methods have been developed for yellow spot (Dinglasan et al. 2016), stripe rust (Hickey et al. 2012), leaf rust (Riaz et al. 2016), and stem rust (Riaz et al. 2017). To identify new sources of resistance to rust and yellow spot, the HickeyLab team is screening the Vavilov Wheat Collection, which includes diverse wheat accessions from around the world – collected by renowned Russian botanist Nikolai Vavilov and his colleagues prior to modern plant breeding.
Fusarium pseudograminearum causes crown rot on a wide range of winter cereals reducing yield and grain quality in Australia and worldwide. The broad range of host species presents a major challenge for cropping systems, affecting the productivity of the barley, wheat, oats, and durum wheat industries. The frequency of disease severity and prevalence in Australia has notably increased with the introduction of minimum tillage cropping practices, less frequent precipitation events during the growing season and more frequent heat waves due to climate change. This has resulted in the exacerbation of CR symptoms. For more than 30 years CR has been considered the most significant fungal disease of temperate cereal crops in Queensland and northern New South Wales.
Barley leaf rust, caused by Puccinia hordei, is arguably the most common and widely distributed disease of barley crops. The deployment of genetic resistance is the most economical, effective, and ecologically sustainable approach to control foliar cereal diseases. In a project funded by the GRDC (2013-2017) conducted in partnership with the University of Sydney, the HickeyLab applied innovative approaches to accelerate the utilisation and deployment of durable adult plant resistance to leaf rust in barley. The major outcomes of this project was the discovery of genomic regions conferring stable resistance to leaf rust in elite breeding populations, as well as the characterisation of a new adult plant resistance gene called Rph24 (Ziems et al. 2017). The research team demonstrated that pairing Rh20 (Hickey et al. 2011) with Rph24 provided a pathway for barley breeders to develop new cultivars with high levels of leaf rust resistance.