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National Wheat Improvement Program Cluster, Activity 31, Enhancing resistance to Fusarium head blight and stem rust in Ontario spring wheat germplasm

Principal Investigator

George Fedak

Research Institution

Ottawa Research and Development Centre, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC)

External Funding Partners

This project is part of the $25.2 million National Wheat Improvement Program funded by the Western Grains Research Foundation (WGRF), the Canadian Field Crop Research Alliance (CFCRA), the Alberta Wheat Commission (AWC), and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) through the Industry-Led Research and Development Stream of the Growing Forward 2 AgriInnovation Program. Grain Farmers of Ontario is a founding member of the CFCRA.

Project Start

April 2013

Project End

March 2018


  • roduce integrated map of simple sequence repeats (SSR) and single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) markers.
  • Produce SNP markers for resistance genes obtained from wild relatives of wheat.
  • Select pyramids with the FHB resistance quantitative trait loci (QTL) from double haploid (DH) populations.


  • The introduction of new genes for resistance to numerous diseases in wheat will allow for increased economic return by allowing farmers to be more efficient in applying pesticides used in production.
  • The use of molecular markers provides greater efficiency and precision when manipulating desirable genes in wheat, allowing breeders to create pyramids consisting of combinations of up to four genes, which is not possible with conventional techniques.

Scientific Summary

Fusarium head blight is a ubiquitous disease of cereals in all temperate grain-growing regions of the world. Fusarium head blight (FHB) is the most serious disease of wheat worldwide. It reduces grain yields plus quality through the deposition of mycotoxins in the grain. Inheritance of resistance is complex and screening for resistance is confounded by environmental factors. Success in breeding for resistance has been slow and incremental, so additional resistance genes were sought in alien species. Five such new genes were bred through conventional breeding methods into wheat. The assignment of single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) markers to the resistance genes will permit the use of marker assisted selection in deploying these genes in breeding programs. This project will develop molecular markers and use them to pyramid the target genes with other known resistance genes to produce germplasm with enhanced levels of FHB resistance for use in variety development.

A screening of Ontario spring wheat germplasm with stem rust Ug99 races revealed no resistance at all. Fortunately, a number stem rust resistance (Sr) genes with resistance to Ug99 are available. These are being organized into pyramids of Sr genes combined with genes for leaf rust and Fusarium resistance. Pyramids of several Sr genes will provide for greater durability of the resistance. The first pyramids, consisting of Sr genes, combined with genes for resistance to leaf rust, loose smut and Fusarium have been produced. Many more combinations are in the pipeline. These efforts will produce germplasm with multiple disease resistance genes for wheat breeding programs in Ontario and elsewhere.