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Biological control of Fusarium disease in corn and wheat using endophytes as seed treatments

Principal Investigator

Manish Raizada

Research Institution

University of Guelph

External Funding Partners

National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s Collaborative Research and Development program (NSERC-CRD), Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA)

Project Start

March 2014

Project End

April 2018


  • Evaluate in greenhouse tests the efficacy of endophytes to control Fusarium disease in Fusarium-inoculated corn and wheat when endophytes are applied as seed coatings or onto ears at silking stage.
  • Evaluate in field tests the efficacy of endophytes (identified in greenhouse tests) to control Fusarium disease and mycotoxin development on Fusarium-inoculated corn hybrids that are susceptible and moderately resistant to Fusarium.
  • Investigate the anti-Fusarium mode(s) of action in the endophyte candidates that are effective at controlling Fusarium disease and mycotoxin development in field tests.


  • The development of probiotic sprays for corn and wheat may lead to commercially available biological controls for combating the disease of Ontario corn and wheat called Fusarium graminearum, which creates a toxin called deoxynivalenol (DON) that affects humans and livestock.

Scientific Summary

Fusarium graminearum and its sexual stage, Gibberella zeae, cause tough-to-control diseases in many cereals, including Fusarium head blight (FHB) in wheat and Gibberella ear rot in corn. These costly diseases reduce grain yield, grade and quality, and can produce mycotoxins, such as deoxynivalenol (DON), that limit the grain’s end-use. Recent FHB epidemics caused losses of $200-million to Ontario’s winter wheat farmers, while 23% of corn in Ontario in 2011 had detectable DON levels. Thus far, there has been limited success with crop breeding for resistance, and fungicide sprays have been shown to be only partially effective. Major biotech companies are now investing billions of dollars into biologicals, naturally occurring probiotics from plants that can be coated onto crop seeds, to suppress diseases and pests.

The overall objective of the project is to develop effective biological control against either Gibberella ear rot in maize or FHB in wheat. This is to be approached through four application methods based on: bacterial coating seeds, broadcast of bacterial infused alginate beads on young plants, an early spray at time of silking/anthesis or a late spray at time of greatest spore susceptibility with beneficial microbial endophytes isolated from corn and finger millet. This project aims to test the endophytes in greenhouse trials on corn and wheat infected with F. graminearum, then focuses on field trials, and then determines the anti-fungal mode(s) of action including genes/chemicals to facilitate their regulatory approval. The field trials will be comparing moderately susceptible and very susceptible cultivars of corn and wheat. The F. graminearum symptoms on the ears and heads and DON levels in the seeds will be assessed. In addition, different tissues from the treated plants will be sampled to determine which tissues in the plant are being colonized by the endophytes. If successful, the microbe(s) can be coated onto seeds as a biological anti-Fusarium agent to assist Ontario’s corn and wheat growers to produce higher yielding and safer grain.

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