Rust on flax

The fungal disease, rust on flax

Plant diseases and pests

CSIRO has extensive capabilities in researching, understanding and tackling various insect pests of plants, plant diseases and weeds.

  • 30 April 2007 | Updated 14 October 2011

The capability

CSIRO has extensive capabilities in researching, understanding and tackling:

  • insect pests of plants
  • plant diseases
  • weeds.

Yields of many crops can be significantly reduced by pests, diseases and weeds. Combatting these problems more effectively and with innovative methods will help improve crop yields. It can also improve environmental health by reducing the application of pesticides.

How CSIRO uses it

CSIRO has had great success in tackling the major insect pest of cotton, Heliocoverpa, through the commercial release of insect-resistant genetically modified cottons. The latest varieties based on Bollgard II, have reduced pesticide use by about 80 per cent.

We are also addressing other pests including:

  • aphids in legumes
  • pod-boring caterpillars and seed-eating weevils in legumes
  • cereal cyst nematodes in wheat.

CSIRO is also committed to tackling diseases that plague Australia’s cereal crops, such as: 

  • rust
  • Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus (BYDV)
  • Fusarium.

We are developing crop plants with improved rust resistance. CSIRO has identified the 'avirulence' gene in rust that alerts the plant to the rust's presence and triggers the plant's defences. We are also using molecular markers to add multiple rust resistance genes to each variety to improve resistance.

CSIRO has extensive capabilities in researching, understanding and tackling various insect pests of plants, plant diseases and weeds

Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus (BYDV) is being tackled by developing the world's first BYDV resistant wheat variety, Mackellar. More BYDV - resistant wheats are being developed.

We are also studying Fusarium in wheat to develop control strategies.
CSIRO is studying other diseases including:

  • necrotrophic fungal pathogens in legumes
  • Alpha Mosaic Virus resistance in white clover
  • Geminiviruses in tomato and cotton.

CSIRO also helps to tackle weeds, particularly by developing herbicide-resistant plants. For example, Roundup Ready cotton is resistant to the herbicide Roundup, which breaks down quickly in soil.

Herbicide tolerance in cotton is being enhanced with studies into cotton's tolerance to other herbicides such as glufosinate ammonium (Liberty herbicide).

Our facilities

CSIRO maintains many glasshouses and controlled-environment facilities suitable for researching plant diseases and pests.

These are supported by our extensive laboratories fitted with advanced equipment and located in:

  • Brisbane
  • Canberra
  • Narrabri, NSW
  • Perth
  • Adelaide.

We also have extensive field sites located where pests and diseases may occur to ensure our research results are directly applicable to the real environment.


CSIRO has many linkages particularly with other research organisations and research and development corporations to support and develop research to address plant diseases and pests.
For example, much of our work into rusts is supported by the Grains Research and Development Corporation. Some of our work in insect pests of cotton is supported by the Cotton Research and Development Corporation.

Related information sheets

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