[ASC-media] Genomics enhance drought and disease resistance

joanne.finlay at dpi.nsw.gov.au joanne.finlay at dpi.nsw.gov.au
Wed Dec 6 04:51:43 CET 2006

6 December 2006

Genomics enhance drought and disease resistance

GENETIC 'signposts' used in research are helping to breed crops more 
capable of handling drought, climate change, diseases and pests.

These stresses are challenging Australian crops at an ever increasing rate 
and new techniques are allowing breeders to tackle problems more rapidly 
and effectively, according to Dr David Luckett, NSW Department of Primary 
Industries (DPI) senior research scientist at Wagga Wagga.

"With all the uncertainty attached to climatic conditions now, farmers can 
at least be assured that research continues that will be of benefit to 
them when things come good again," Dr Luckett said.

Dr Luckett heads a team using a new field of genetics, called genomics, to 
tackle lupin breeding at the Wagga Wagga Agricultural Institute.

He said genomics was not genetic modification (GM); instead it used 
existing variation in crops' natural DNA to give signposts to the 
important genes for disease resistance, yield and grain quality. 

"Genomics is enabling us to breed disease-resistance in lupins without 
using GM and without all the controversy," Dr Luckett said.

Dr Luckett said this work would help in the fight against diseases such as 
anthracnose, which is not found in NSW lupin crops but is a major threat 
and could arrive at any time. 

"We are developing an anthracnose-resistant version of the successful 
lupin variety 'Jindalee' without ever having to expose the plants to the 
actual disease.
"The laboratory procedure is quicker and cheaper than growing the plants 
in the field, and can be done at any time of the year.

"This exciting field of work allows researchers to identify numerous 
variants in the DNA of a crop plant. The variants are then used to make a 
detailed map of the crop's DNA.

"The genetic variants or signposts we look for are called DNA markers, 
which are similar to those used in human medicine to identify undesirable 
genes, such as a tendency towards breast cancer, or high blood pressure.

"DNA markers are like illuminated signposts in the genetic fog - find the 
signpost and you know how far away the gene you want is, even if you can't 
see it.

"If the closest signpost is there in a plant's DNA, then most likely the 
gene you want will be there too.

"Genomics will allow breeding programs to be much more responsive, 
allowing breeders to select for important genes that are otherwise hard or 
expensive to detect.

"The new approach produces better varieties faster, and allows the 
breeding program to take-up new challenges and make progress more 
rapidly," Dr Luckett said.

NSW DPI is extending their involvement in genomics research to cover other 
legumes such as chickpeas, faba beans, field peas and narrow-leaf lupins. 

This work will involve other departments of agriculture across Australia, 
plus Murdoch University in Perth, using federal funding from the 
Australian Research Council.
The Albus lupin breeding program at Wagga Wagga is part-funded by growers 
through the Grains Research and Development Corporation. 

Contact David Luckett, Wagga Wagga, (02) 6938 1835, david 
luckett at dpi.nsw.gov.au 

Media inquires: Joanne Finlay, (02) 6391 3171, 0428 491 813 or 
joanne.finlay at dpi.nsw.gov.au
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