Common wheat tends to be non-resistant to several diseases. One such disease is a fungus disease called mildew. Contemporary cultivated wheat has evolved from relatively limited amount of individuals, therefore its genome does not include very many resistance genes, which could ensure anti-disease resistance.
In order to make the field wheat resistant to mildew, the researchers of the Department of Gene Technology have interbred it with a related wheat species from the Caucasian mountains, to which the local pathogenic fungi have not adapted. The objective was to find out, what makes wild wheat resistant to the disease and how the right ’pieces’ of the genome of wild wheat could be transferred to cultivated wheat. „This was not an easy task, because different species do not interbreed,“ says Kadri Järve, senior researcher of the Chair of Gene Technology.
Still they succeeded to get some hybrids. From their descendants the most resistant were selected for further research. DNA markers were used to find out, where in the wheat genome and in which chromosome the resistance gene is located. The researchers of the Chair of Gene Technology produce recombinant plants containing as small section of the genome part of wild wheat providing resistance as possible.
By now the gene has been transferred to a Finnish wheat species bred in 1949, but it is not very interesting from agricultural point of view – it does not ripen in time and will not provide sufficient crop. Now the objective is to transfer the gene into a contemporary Estonian wheat species, which is very susceptible to mildew. „We are working between application and theory,“ says Järve.
The researchers of TUT cooperate with a Czech laboratory, which is arranging the sequence of wheat genome, precisely the necessary chromosome – the chromosomes of vast genome of wheat have been divided between different laboratories of the world for sequencing.
The result of work of the researchers can be used also abroad. Currently the Chair of Gene Technology is considering its transfer into the global gene bank of cereals in Mexico. „We are not very eager to do this,“ says Järve. Plants cannot be patented and from the gene bank anyone could use the work result. However, an agreement could be concluded, which would ensure to the researchers of TUT co-authorship of potential new wheat species bred on the basis of their work. In any case, Jõgeva Plant breeding Institute can use the result free of charge, in order to breed new disease-resistant varieties. „We’ll finish this one and then will see,“ Järve describes the future prospects.
In addition to practical application there could be also a scientific discovery. There is reason to assume that resistance of wild wheat has different molecular mechanism. „If this is true, it will be interesting, “ says Järve.