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Scientists across the globe continue their mission to map the
genomic sequence of crop varieties. A team in the US could now have
the solution to a rogue fungus that is the enemy of beer brewers.

Scientists across the globe continue their mission to map the genomic sequence of crop varieties. A team in the US could now have the solution to a rogue fungus in beer formulation.

The researchers announced this week that they have mapped the DNA of a grain fungus that wreaks havoc with beer brewing. The genomic sequence of the fungal plant pathogen - Fusarium graminearum​ - has been completed, providing scientists with a roadmap to combating a fungus that infects wheat and barley crops, rendering them unusable.

"We have enough to do a tremendous amount of good work,"​ said Frances Trail, associate professor of plant biology at Michigan State University. "Now we can begin to unravel mechanisms to combat this fungus which is a devastating problem in Michigan, the Midwest and all over the world."

This fungus - that causes Fusarium head blight - is a serious pathogen of wheat and barley. Its presence can reduce grain yields, and taints grain with mycotoxins that have been found to be detrimental to human and animal health. Head blight outbreaks in the 1990s cost US agriculture $3 billion.

F. graminearum is also a pox to beer producers. Malting creates a fungus friendly environment, and barley infected with the fungus produces beer with a vast excess of foam. As a result, the malting barley industry has a zero tolerance to this fungus.

The fungus begins its blighting ways as pinprick-sized pods that spit spores into the air. The spores float over grain fields, landing on flowering wheat and barley. The spores grow into the wheat flowers. Cool, wet weather provides an ideal environment for the fungus to take hold.

"Classical control methods for blight just aren't working,"​ said Trail. "Sequencing this fungus can be the beginning of designing new methods of control."

Researchers are now working on understanding and annotating specific gene functions within the sequence. In Trail's lab, work has already begun on specific genes that appear to control the firing mechanisms of the spore pods.

Related topics: R&D

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