So far, the deadly pathogen known as wheat blast has not been found outside South America and a Kansas State University researcher and her team of colleagues want to make sure that it doesn't get a chance to wreak the havoc in North America that it has south of the equator.
The K-State researcher, Barbara Valent, and her team have received a $5.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop novel disease control strategies for wheat blast and its closely-related cousin, rice blast.
Rice blast is well established in the United States and in all other rice-growing countries. Valent, a university distinguished professor of plant pathology, is leading a team of K-State and national and international collaborators who are trying to find ways to protect rice fields against the disease and area also working on ways to prevent wheat blast from getting a start and to stop it quickly if it does appear.
"This disease – wheat blast – spreads quickly," Valent said. "If we don't prepare by learning and educating others about detection, and look for ways to curb it if it does strike the U.S., the consequences could be enormous."
Diseases are explosive in the right conditions
Both wheat blast and rice blast are explosive diseases under favorable weather conditions.
Blast disease, caused by the fungus Magnaporthe oryzae is a major constraint to global rice production and is an emerging and very serious threat to U.S. wheat, Valent said. Rice blast research over the past 20 years has provided a wealth of understanding on the molecular basis for blast resistance in rice.
"Our goal is to leverage this knowledge as part of an integrated approach to improve U.S. rice production and protect the nation's wheat crop," Valent said.