Cereals such as maize, wheat and rice account for almost half of all food calories consumed worldwide, but millions of tonnes of these essential crops are lost to disease each year before they reach our plates. An EU-funded project is waging war on cereal diseases to increase yields, strengthen food security and support a growing world population.
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The EU-funded CerealPath project is a multi-disciplinary training programme combining and sharing expertise from both industry and academia in approaching agricultural disease to support the doctoral research of 15 early-stage researchers.
The work focuses on harnessing scientific advances to tackle the most devastating diseases affecting cereal crops globally, targeting more sustainable intensive farming practices and minimising the impact of agriculture on ecosystems and the environment.
Throughout the project, research groups will explore different solutions. Projects conducted by five CerealPath doctoral students will support research into environmentally sustainable methods of disease control. They will develop crops and crop mixtures with durable resistance a field of considerable interest for plant breeders, biotech companies and agricultural scientists. The researchers will apply state-of-the-art genetics technology to enhance plant resistance, combining expertise in cereal genomics, bioinformatics and functional plant biology.
Another six early-stage researchers are focusing on biological and bioactive disease control, looking at how micro-organisms and a range of other biologically active products offer an environmentally friendly, complimentary approach to controlling disease through mechanisms such as the activation of plants natural defence responses or direct anti-pathogen activity.
Meanwhile, four researchers are studying pathogen evolution to determine the relationship between enhanced disease resistance and potential negative side effects such as reduced yield or susceptibility to other pathogens. Their work will focus on identifying new broad-spectrum resistance genes and determining whether better understanding of pathogen evolution can help guide smarter breeding and more selective crop adaptation.
CerealPath is supported by the EUs Marie Skłodowska-Curie programme as part of its extended training networks (ETN) scheme, which is designed to boost scientific excellence and business innovation through intersectoral and interdisciplinary research training.