THUWAL, SAUDI ARABIA — Identifying and cloning a gene from a wheat cultivar resistant to stripe rust could lead to new cultivars that recognize and resist disease, according to a study appearing in the March issue of Nature Genetics.

Researchers from the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia along with collaborators from South Africa, France and the United States worked with a wheat cultivar from South Africa called Kariega that has a resistance to stripe rust, one of three species of wheat rust. 

They identified and cloned a gene, Yr27, that confers stripe rust resistance. The gene was cloned to study its function and molecular mechanisms of resistance. In the future the cloned gene could be transferred to cultivars during breeding and could be modified to alter a plant’s disease recognition and resistance. 

“We’ve developed a fast and cost-effective strategy to clone disease-resistance genes,” said Simon Krattinger, PhD, assistant professor of plant science at KAUST. “The long-term goal is to clone the 400 resistance genes found in wheat, providing scientists with a real shot at eradicating major wheat diseases.”

Pests and diseases result in the loss of one-fifth of the global wheat harvest each year, which is enough to make about 290 billion loaves of bread, according to KAUST.