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The challenge

Fighting the global threat of cereal rust disease

Rusts are a common fungal disease of plants, including many of Australia’s cereal and horticultural crops. They are prevalent in most wheat growing areas around the world, threatening global wheat yields.

As rust pathogens are adaptable and can evolve into new strains attacking previously resistant plants, it is imperative that new varieties are constantly developed to avoid major crop losses.

Our response

Identifying wheat varieties containing resistance genes which prevent rust infecting the plant

CSIRO has been contributing to the global fight against rust for several decades. CSIRO’s research, as part of the Australian Cereal Rust Control Program funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), has focused upon the interaction between the rust pathogen and the crops it attacks. The research has provided the wheat industry with genetic markers that simplify the conventional breeding of rust resistant wheat.

These markers allow breeders to identify wheat varieties containing resistance genes which prevent rust infecting the plant or help the plants successfully battle a rust attack. To date, CSIRO has provided wheat breeders with markers for more than 20 resistance genes.

The results

Higher yields and reduced costs for growers

CSIRO’s cereal rust research has led to a range of impacts. Economic benefits include higher yields for Australian grain growers and reduced costs through avoided fungicide application. The improved capacity of grain growers to prevent rust epidemics potentially contributes to greater stability in production and, at a national level, a higher level of food security. 

A recent economic assessment estimates the net present value (NPV) of CSIRO’s rust research for the wheat industry is approximately $382 million with $290 million attributable to CSIRO.

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