£100,000 grant will aid research into sugar beet infections

The Genome Analysis Centre in Norwich has been awarded £100k to identify sources of infection for th

The Genome Analysis Centre in Norwich has been awarded £100k to identify sources of infection for the UK's sugar beet crop. Pictured: Sugar beet leaf. - Credit: Submitted

Scientists at the Norwich Research Park have been awarded £100,000 to explore ways to identify the sources of damaging crop infections in sugar beet.

The Plant and Microbial Genomics Group at The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC) was given the funding by the British Beet Research Organisation (BBRO) to find ways to combat Erysiphe betae, a sugar beet powdery mildew which can cause sugar yield losses of up to 20pc.

The project aims to quantify the diversity of the UK's E. betae species, determine the source of infection of the sugar beet crop, and identify the effects of fungicides on the pathogen's genetic diversity.

Researchers will analyse 100 E. betae genome sequences from both agricultural and wild settings.

Dr Mark McMullan, a population and evolutionary biologist at TGAC, said: 'Evolution of powdery mildew in the wild may drive adaptation to crop hosts and cause losses in agriculture. By analysing the population genetics of pathogens that span both wild and agricultural ecosystems we hope to shed light on the causes of sugar beet infection and also on the causes of agricultural host-pathogen evolution.'

Currently, the main treatments for the infection are triazole and strobilurin fungicides which are currently under scrutiny by EU regulators, due to concerns about their effects on the human endocrine system.

Dr Lawrence Percival-Alwyn, research associate in plant and microbial genomics at TGAC, said understanding the pathogen's diversity could speed the development of resistant cultivars and allow for the future development of targeted treatment for possible virulent strains.

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'Currently it's unknown how fungicidal treatment affects the success of different E.betae strains,' he said. 'By sequencing strains that infect prior to and those that re-emerge following fungicidal treatment, we hope to identify those strains that are more resistant to current treatments.'