Wheat blast was first discovered in Brazil in 1985, and has since been found in Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina. Three years ago it cut production in Brazilian wheat states by up to 60 percent in some areas.
Rice blast caused significant crop losses in fields in Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas in 2012 and the disease has already been reported this year in Louisiana.
Goal to develop varieties resistant to both diseases
"Our goal is to develop resistant varieties for control of both diseases," Valent said. "We plan to use traditional strategies for finding and deploying resistance genes, as well as novel strategies based on new knowledge generated by research on rice blast." Additional outcomes will be diagnostic tools, training resources for first detectors and responders, and a disease forecasting model. "Another important objective for this project is to educate undergraduate students in plant biosecurity."
"Arguably, rice and wheat are the two most important crops in the world," said K-State professor of plant pathology, James Stack, who is one of the research team members. "In most countries, either wheat or rice is a staple in citizens' diets. It's hard for people who have ready access to food to understand, but threats to either of those crops can be the difference between food security and hunger."
Typically, about one-fifth of all wheat grown in the United States is grown in Kansas, according to the Kansas Wheat Commission. About half of Kansas wheat is exported to other countries.
In 2012, Kansas produced 382 million bushels of winter wheat and overall U.S. production totaled 1.65 billion bushels, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
One of the many problems posed by wheat blast is that it looks a lot like some other wheat diseases, so it's sometimes hard to detect, said Stack, who serves as the director of the Great Plains Diagnostic Network, a consortium of nine states which is part of the National Plant Diagnostic Center. The GPDN coordinates diagnostics, communications and trains first detectors of plant diseases.