Research into wheat aphid

22 Jul, 2016 02:00 AM
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Murdoch University research could help to breed plant resistance to Russian wheat aphid. Photo courtesy of Kansas Department of Agriculture Bugwood.
Murdoch University research could help to breed plant resistance to Russian wheat aphid. Photo courtesy of Kansas Department of Agriculture Bugwood.

RESEARCH by Murdoch University could hold the key to stopping the effect Russian wheat aphid (RWA) has on cereal crops.

The research, funded by the Grains Research Development Corporation (GRDC), discovered the plant resistance from a pre-emptive, pre-breeding project which was originally led by former Murdoch Associate Professor Mehmet Cakir, funded by the GRDC from 2008 to 2013.

PhD student Surendran Selladurai completed the project and his thesis is now under examination by international experts.

His research contributed to successfully breeding plant resistance against three aphid biotypes which occur in other countries.

"Developing host plant resistance via pre-emptive plant breeding is critical to ensuring Australian biosecurity. It's the most economical and practical means of control," he said.

RWA resistance has been demonstrated in studies carried out in Morocco, Turkey and South Africa.

Mr Selladurai identified molecular markers used in screening germplasm, a plant's genetic code, for RWA resistance.

If the aphids found in South Australia are similar to those screened by his study, Murdoch University will hold the key to protecting Australia's cereal crops.

Testing of the aphids found in South Australia is underway to determine its biotype. Murdoch University deputy vice chancellor David Morrison said Mr Selladurai's research could protect Australian grains from RWA.

"This is a perfect example of the translational nature of research at Murdoch, which aims to provide solutions to the challenges facing the world," Dr Morrison said.

"Crop production, agricultural biotechnology and biosecurity are at the core of our research."

Murdoch University and GRDC are working together and with plant breeding companies to ensure the benefits of this research are available to industry.

Researchers are using a technique known as gene silencing to generate genetically modified plants with genes making them resistant to the green peach aphid. RWA has now been detected in South Australia and Victoria. It is approximately 2mm long and is a pale yellowish green in colour, with a fine waxy coating.

RWA is spread by wind, humans, animals and farm machinery and attacks all cereal crops including wheat, barley, oats and rice.

The aphid injects toxins into the plant during feeding, which affects growth.

Affected plants display whitish, yellow and red leaf markings, as well as distinctive, rolling leaves.

It has yet to be discovered in WA, however farmers are being asked to regularly inspect crops for aphid activity.

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