'Enemy' of wheat detected

Iftekhar Mahmud | Update:

TofazzalA team of Bangladeshi and British scientists have detected the fungi responsible for the blast disease that afflicts wheat. The team, led by Prof Tofazzal Hossain of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Agricultural University, and Prof Sophien Kamoun of the UK, shared their findings in a public statement yesterday midnight while the results of their study will be published in a leading scientific journal later this month.

The detection of the fungi, its lifecycle, its weaknesses and strengths, will pave the way for producing new breeds of wheat resistant to the blast disease, hope the scientists. 

Although blast was mainly a threat for paddy for almost 50 years, it first attacked wheat in Brazil in 1985. Till date, the South American countries were the main sufferers, as it claimed around 20 to 30 per cent of their wheat production every year. But in February this year, cases of blast were reported in Chuadanga and Meherpur, shocking the Asian scientists who were apprehending an outbreak. The likes of India, China and Pakistan are major wheat producing countries.

However, Prof Tofazzal thinks they have made a remarkable advancement in the fight against blast. "We have detected the fungi's characteristics, where they are born and how they can be contained. Now we urge wheat scientists worldwide to join us in the war against blast," he said.

UK-based Biotechnological Science Research Council supported the research where scientists from Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Agricultural University, The Sainsbury, The Genetic Analysis Centre and John Innes Centre joined the research.

In March, scientists from Bangladesh Agriculture Research Institute (BARI) identified a fungus ‘pyricularia’ as the cause of blast disease. The research started with the assistance of international maize and wheat improvement centre (Cimmyt), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

Scientists have sent the fungus in USDA lab for genome sequence. The result is yet to come.

The blast disease of wheat spread in seven districts of the country last February. The seeds turned white and died before becoming wheat grains. Almost 90 per cent of the crop gets damaged as a result. The department of agricultural extension (DAE) suggested burning down the whole crop affected by the disease.

Almost 15,000 hector lands of wheat in Meherpur, Jhenidah, Jessore, Kushtia, Chuadanga, Barisal, and Bhola got severely affected by the disease. The wheat production is expected to fall almost 20 per cent as a result.

Wheat research centre chief scientific officer Poritosh Kumar Malakar said, “We couldn’t understand this initially as it is the first time this fungus attack happened in Bangladesh. Later we started research about the new disease with help of different international organisations including Cimmyt. If someone manages to identify the genome sequence, it will help us defeat the disease.” 

Wheat

Cimmyt and USDA officials said such fungus attacks on wheat crops started in 1985 in Brazil. It has become a terror for the wheat farmers of South America since then.

The Latin farmers are now planting a new kind of wheat resistant against this fungus. However, the research to identify the genome sequence is not complete as yet.

The blast fungus generally attacks 50 types of grasses including paddy. Sometimes the fungus transfers from one crop to another in a contagion.

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