Researching blackleg in canola.
Original Published Date: 
Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Full article issued by The University of Western Australia (UWA).

Brassica crops including cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kale and canola are a significant crop for Australian farmers, however their production can be seriously limited by a fungal disease known as 'blackleg'. Blackleg causes cankers to form on the stem of the plant, as well as leaf lesions and in some cases infected pods, and can cause cause significant yield lost in infected plants. Globally, blackleg is responsible for an average of 10% yield loss per year.

A team led by ARC Future Fellow, Professor Jacqueline Batley at the University of Western Australia, has a focus on disease resistance in Brassicas, in particular the oilseed crop Brassica napus (canola) and its interactions with the fungus that causes blackleg, Leptosphaeria maculans. The team is using genome sequencing and molecular marker technology to find novel and sustainable sources of resistance against blackleg for breeders and farmers.

Brassicas become resistant to blackleg through a gene for gene interaction, where a resistance gene in the plant recognises an effector protein in the pathogen. As part of a 2018 Linkage Project, the team worked with the UWA Applied Bioinformatics group to develop the Crop SNP database (CropSNPdb). The online data repository provides researchers and breeding companies with an accurate source of data for future crop selection as well as associated economic benefits. 

In 2020, in collaboration with University of Melbourne School of Biosciences, the team characterised all the resistance genes across different species that have had their genome sequenced. Their project established a resource for the identification and characterization of resistance genes in Brassica. This is used by researchers and breeders to see which resistance genes are present and to ensure a sustainable level of new resistance genes is introduced into the Australian cropping system.

By knowing whether their cultivar has an appropriate resistance gene, farmers are also able to improve yield and lower the use of fungicide on their crops.

Photo credit: 

Screenshot from a YouTube video showing ARC Future Fellow, Jacqueline Batley, and colleagues in the greenhouse. Credit: UWA.