AWC - Funded Research

Pre-breeding and development of breeding tools to diversify disease resistance in bread wheat

Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP) Wheat Cluster Project

AWC Contribution: $8,037


There are many diseases of wheat that cause yield losses and reduce grain quality. One way to control diseases is to breed wheat varieties that carry disease resistance genes. Genetic resistance has the benefit of reducing input costs for producers, improving the efficacy of other control measures, and improving environmental sustainability. Several diseases have been identified as being more important in the Canadian Prairies as they pose problems or threats for wheat production.  Three of these diseases include leaf rust, stripe rust, and stem rust.  It is important to identify rust resistance genes that would be effective in the Prairies and then cross these genes into elite genetic backgrounds that can be directly used by wheat breeders.

DNA markers are important tools that allow geneticists and breeders to select plants that carry desired genes. For DNA markers to be useful for marker-assisted selection (MAS) they need to be closely linked to the target gene and developed for a testing platform that is appropriate for use in breeding applications.  DNA markers that satisfy these parameters can be used to select combinations of disease resistance genes that would be impossible to select by simply testing plants with the disease. Rust resistance genes remain effective for longer periods of time when genes are deployed in combinations. The most apparent threat posed by stem rust comes from races of the stem rust fungus that are found in Africa.  The safest and most efficient way to select for resistance genes that are effective against these stem rust races is to use MAS.


The goals of this project are to: 

  1. Diversify the genetic basis of leaf rust, stripe rust, and stem rust in Canadian bread wheat by crossing key genes into elite wheat lines
  2. Introduce newly identified ergot resistance genes into Canadian bread wheat by crossing these genes into elite wheat lines
  3. Validating and developing DNA markers for the rust and ergot resistance genes targeted in the project, and
  4. Use existing genetic populations to screen for novel leaf and stem rust resistance genes and cross new genes into elite germplasm to promote early adoption of novel resistance genes.


Benefits to industry:

The pre-breeding activities in this project will generate wheat lines that can be directly used in wheat breeding programs to improve disease resistance in new varieties. Furthermore, the validation and development of DNA markers will facilitate the pre-breeding activities in this project and provide wheat breeders with the tools needed to select rust and ergot resistance genes in their breeding programs.


Dr. Colin Hiebert has been a wheat geneticist with AAFC since 2010. His program focuses on disease resistance genes in bread and durum wheat including resistance to leaf rust, stem rust, stripe rust, and ergot. He conducts an array of research ranging from searching for new resistance genes, molecular genetics and genomics, and germplasm development to help move high-value genes from the lab to farmers' fields. Dr. Hiebert has led or collaborated on the discovery of over 10 resistance genes, developed many DNA markers to aid selection of genes in breeding programs, and transferred germplasm to breeding programs that carry key resistance genes in elite genetic backgrounds.