U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists have characterized the molecular mechanism behind some plants’ ability to resist rice blast, a fungal disease that affects cereal grain crops such as rice, wheat, rye, and barley and can cause yield losses of up to 30%. The fungus has been found in 85 countries worldwide, including the United States.
Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Plant Pathologist Yulin Jia determined how those molecular mechanisms work and how resistance genes evolved. Jia studies the molecular relationship between rice and the fungi responsible for the diseases rice blast and sheath blight. Jia and his colleagues have also mapped two major blast-resistance genes from a rice cultivar from China. Their findings have been reported in the journals Euphytica, Plant Science, and Phytopathology.
A few years ago, Jia visited the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Baños, the Philippines, and was able to bring back more than 100 rice lines that contained different genes that confer resistance to the blast fungus. Similarly, IRRI scientists have imported rice germplasm from the ARS collection for their research. Some of this germplasm has shown some resistance to sheath blight strains that occur in their environment, according to Jia.