AWC - Funded Research

Fighting rust fungal crop threats through integrated genomics research

AWC contribution: $100,000.00


This 4 year project will analyze 60 Canadian wheat genomes, combined with comparative analysis of available stem and stripe rust information, to select for important virulence factors against wheat. These genomic information will allow for future diagnostic tool development, discovery of durable disease resistance genes, and designing of disease suppression technologies.


  1. Sequence the DNA of 60 Canadian Puccinia triticina isolates with varying virulence profiles on wheat cultivars to assess genetic variability.
  2. Compare to earlier identified variability to correlate virulence profiles with genetic variation and identify candidate virulence effectors. Those that are crucial for disease will be used to screen for novel resistances in various breeding lines and germplasm.
  3. Target crucial virulence factors using the host-induced pathogen gene silencing technology to generate elite wheat cultivars with increased durable rust resistance.
  4. Use identified genetic rust fungus variability to develop diagnostic assays for incorporation in the nationwide fungal disease monitoring system “Phytoshield”. Start the sampling of several fungal pathogens of economic importance to Western Canadian growers and develop assays for these as well.
  5. Understand the mechanisms by which pathogenic rust fungi cause diseases on Canadian cereal crops.
  6. To identify important virulence factors in rust fungi will allow for better selection of more important and durable resistance genes for disease control. 

Benefit to producers:

By assessing wheat’s genomic profiles, we will better understand their genetic vulnerabilities to rust. Canadian breeders and producers will be less reliant in fungicide, and therefore can grow healthier crops in a more environmentally friendly manner.


Our laboratory is investigating the molecular basis of plant-pathogen interactions. Genomics on major agricultural pathogens, the basidiomycetes wheat leaf rust fungus, Puccinia triticina, and the related barley covered smut fungus, Ustilago hordei. Generation of whole genome sequences and bioinformatic database mining, support to and annotation efforts using bioinformatic tools. Analysis of fungal and host transcriptomes (gene expression patterns) proteomes during leaf rust-wheat host interaction and infection. Special interest in fungal mating types and (secreted) virulence factors and avirulence factors triggering defence and resistance in the host. Collaboration with researchers in AAFC centres in Morden, MB, Lethbridge, AB and Ottawa, ON; Trent University; USDA labs (St. Paul, MN and Manhattan, KS); Broad Institute for genome research, Cambridge, MA; University of Cologne and Max Planck Institute, Marburg, Germany.