Posts Tagged ‘The Crawford Fund’

Sowing seeds of the future

Alison Bentley, the incoming director of the Global Wheat Program at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat, completed her formal education at the University of Sydney in Australia, with support from the Crawford Fund. In the blog below, originally posted on the website of the Crawford Fund, Alison Bentley looks back at her early career and the lessons she will take to her new role at CIMMYT.


Alison at the Crawford Fund Master Class in Turkey, 2003.

By Alison Bentley

In November 2020, I’ll be moving (at least in the virtual sense, given current travel restrictions) to the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), based in Mexico, to lead the Global Wheat Program (GWP). CIMMYT’s GWP has an incredible track record of impact, delivering varieties and germplasm to support wheat production throughout the world.

My first experience of working with CIMMYT was in 2003 as an attendee at the first Crawford Master Class on Soil-Borne Pathogens of Wheat in Turkey, hosted by Dr. Julie Nicol (the then-CIMMYT soil-borne disease pathologist) and colleagues. As a new PhD student at The University of Sydney in Australia, this was an incredible scientific experience with the course encompassing field visits, lab practicals and lectures from leading scientists (including my PhD supervisor Professor Lester Burgess). In addition, it was my first visit to the Central West Asia & North Africa (CWANA) region and an opportunity to interact with CWANA wheat scientists.

Beyond the scientific learning, I remember the lunchtime football matches, social events and sense of excitement in our discussions about new ideas and future impacts. I was also fortunate to have financial support from the Crawford Fund NSW Committee to stay on in Turkey to conduct a survey of soil-borne diseases of wheat (supporting my PhD research). What a privilege it was to travel around Turkey with Dr. Berna Tunali from the University of Ondokus Mayýs, sampling wheat fields by day and eating grilled fish by the Coast of Marmara by night.

The collaboration allowed us to conduct a quantitative survey of the community of Fusarium species associated with wheat in northern production regions. It also provided me with a firm view of the context of my PhD research and of how working with partners greatly enhances the value (and enjoyment) of scientific research.

From these early months of my PhD spent in Turkey to its progression and completion (including international collaborations with Plant & Food New Zealand, Kansas State University, Cornell University and national collaborations with the South Australia Research and Development Institute and the Western Australia Department of Agriculture), I further learned the value of partnerships and collaboration. I also came to fully appreciate the importance of understanding context: what does the challenge look like in the field or system it is relevant to, how will change be implemented and by who? My supervisor Lester Burgess often cited “serendipity,” and it always struck me that what he was actually describing was not really pure good fortune, but the result of “making your own luck.”

I recall many days in northwest New South Wales driving long stretches on the trail of crown rot infections in farm crops and conversations with agronomists asking for tip-offs on recent sightings of disease. This process led to many important discoveries, notably for my PhD: the nature of sexual reproduction by the crown rot fungus and an understanding of spatial relationships of genetic variation in the field.

Alison Bentley (right) and Martin Jones (left) in the glasshouse at NIAB. Photo credit: Toby Smith/Gloknos.

The time spent talking to agronomists, visiting farms and conducting field surveys proved invaluable to my PhD. When I moved to the United Kingdom and joined the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) in 2007 it was my foundational starting point. At NIAB, I joined the team embarking on a pioneering program of wheat pre-breeding to deliver systematically developed and validated resources for wheat improvement. When it started, this translational program aimed to bridge the gap between fundamental discoveries in model plant species and commercial breeding. It has led to the production of a wealth of genetic resources in commercially relevant genetic backgrounds for rapid uptake into breeding.

The program outputs to date include precisely defined germplasm (near-isogenic lines), user-friendly high-throughput genetic markers (for marker assisted selection), multi-founder populations and re-synthesised wheat incorporating untapped genetic diversity.

The resources developed at NIAB and by other institutes and universities have resulted in the UK having arguably one of the most prolific public sector germplasm creation programs worldwide outside the CGIAR. This has resulted in interest from both the research and breeding sector, leveraging significant public- and private-sector investment. Breeding programs in Europe, South and North America, Africa, Asia, and Australia have accessed material, indicative of global impact and success.

In moving to CIMMYT, I take forward the many lessons I have learned since my first Crawford Fund-supported visit to Turkey back in 2003. That visit was the seed of my future motivation to deliver science-led solutions to support global wheat production. My subsequent PhD research and time at NIAB have multiplied that seed into vast fields. CIMMYT, and CGIAR breeding deliver improved wheat germplasm into the hands of farmers. Seeds multiplied into fields multiplied into support for global farming communities.

University of Queensland honors student studies tan spot resistance in wheat at CIMMYT

This story, part of a series on the international agricultural research projects of recipients of the Crawford Fund’s International Agricultural Student Award, was originally posted on the Crawford Fund blog

In 2018, Tamaya Peressini, from The Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI), a research institute of the University of Queensland (UQ), travelled to CIMMYT in Mexico as part of her Honours thesis research focused on a disease called tan spot in wheat.

Tamaya performing disease evaluations 10 days post infection at CIMMYT’s glasshouse facilities

Tan spot is caused by the pathogen Pyrenophora triciti-repentis (Ptr), and her project aimed to evaluate the resistance of tan spot in wheat to global races to this pathogen.

“The germplasm I’m studying for my thesis carries what is known as adult plant resistance (or APR) to tan spot, which has demonstrated to be a durable source of resistance in other wheat pathosystems such as powdery mildew,” said Tamaya.

Symptoms of tan spot on wheat plants

Tan spot is prevalent worldwide, and in Australia causes the most yield loss out of the foliar wheat diseases. In Australia, there is only one identified pathogen race that is prevalent called Ptr Race 1. For Ptr Race 1, the susceptibility gene Tsn1 in wheat is the main factor that results in successful infection in Ptr strains that carry Toxin A. However, globally it is a more difficult problem, as there are seven other pathogen races that consist of different combinations of necrotrophic toxins. Hence, developing cultivars that are multi-race resistant to Ptr presents a significant challenge to breeders as multiple resistant genes would be required for resistance to other pathogens.

“At CIMMYT I evaluated the durability of APR I identified in plant material in Australia by inoculating with a local strain of Ptr and also with a pathogen that shares ToxA: Staganospora nodorum.”

“The benefit of studying this at CIMMYT was that I had access to different strains of the pathogen which carry different virulence factors of disease, I was exposed to international agricultural research, and importantly, I was able to create research collaborations that would allow the APR detected in this population to have the potential to reach developing countries to assist in developing durably resistant wheat cultivars for worldwide deployment,” explained Tamaya.

Recent work in Dr Lee Hickey’s laboratory in Queensland has identified several landraces from the Vavilov wheat collection that exhibited a novel resistance to tan spot known as adult plant resistance (APR). APR has proven to be a durable and broad-spectrum source of resistance in wheat crops; namely with the Lr34 gene which confers resistance to powdery mildew and leaf stem rust of wheat.

“My research is focussed on evaluating this type of resistance and identifying whether it is resistant to multiple pathogen species and other races of Ptr. This is important to the Queensland region, as the northern wheat belt is significantly affected by tan spot disease. Introducing durable resistance genes to varieties in this region would be an effective pre-breeding strategy because it would help develop crop varieties that would have enhanced resistance to tan spot should more strains reach Australia. Furthermore, it may provide durable resistance to other necrotrophic pathogens of wheat,” said Tamaya.

The plant material Tamaya studied in her honours thesis was a recombinant inbred line (RIL) population, with the parental lines being the APR landrace (carries Tsn1) and the susceptible Australian cultivar Banks (also carries Tsn1). To evaluate the durability of resistance in this population to other strains of Ptr, this material along with the parental lines of the population and additional land races from the Vavilov wheat collection were sent to CIMMYT for Tamaya to perform a disease assay.

“At CIMMYT I evaluated the durability of APR identified in plant material in Australia by inoculating with a local strain of Ptr and also with a pathogen that shares ToxA: Staganospora nodorum. After infection, my plant material was kept in 100 per cent humidity for 24 hours (12 hours light and 12 hours dark) and then transferred back to regular glasshouse conditions. At 10 days post infection I evaluated the resistance in the plant material.”

From the evaluation, the APR RIL line demonstrated significant resistance compared to the rest of the Australian plant material against both pathogens. The results are highly promising, as they demonstrate the durability of the APR for both pre-breeding and multi-pathogen resistance breeding. Furthermore, this plant material is now available for experimental purposes at CIMMYT where further trials can validate how durable the resistance is to other necrotrophic pathogens and also be deployed worldwide and be tested against even more strains of Ptr.
“During my visit at CIMMYT I was able to immerse myself in the Spanish language and take part in professional seminars, tours, lab work and field work around the site. A highlight for me was learning to prepare and perform toxin infiltrations for an experiment comparing the virulence of different strains of spot blotch.”

“I also formed valuable friendships and research partnerships from every corner of the globe and had valuable exposure to the important research underway at CIMMT and insight to the issues that are affecting maize and wheat growers globally. Of course, there was also the chance to travel on weekends; where I was able to experience the lively Mexican culture and historical sites – another fantastic highlight to the trip!”

Visiting the Sun and Moon temples of Teotihuacan

“I would like to thank CIMMYT and Dr Pawan Singh for hosting me and giving the opportunity to learn, grow and experience the fantastic research that is performed at CIMMYT and opportunities to experience parts of Mexico. The researchers and lab technicians were all so friendly and accommodating. I would also like to thank my supervisor Dr Lee Hickey for introducing this project collaboration with CIMMYT. Lastly, I would like to thank the Crawford Fund Queensland Committee for funding this visit; not only was I able to immerse myself in world class plant pathology research, I have been given valuable exposure to international agricultural research that will give my research career a boost in the right direction,” concluded Tamaya.

CIMMYT scientist R.K. Malik wins Crawford Fund’s Derek Tribe Award for improving livelihoods of farmers in India

By Anuradha Dhar/CIMMYT

NEW DEHLI, India (April 22, 2016)-Ram Kanwar Malik, a senior agronomist in the Sustainable Intensification Program at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) based in Bihar, India, is the winner of the 2015 Derek Tribe Award for his outstanding contributions to making a food secure world by improving and sustaining the productivity of the rice-wheat system of the northwestern and eastern Indo-Gangetic Plains.