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Defining mechanisms of mycotoxin degradation in Fusarium head blight of wheat and barley

Principal Investigator: Jennifer Geddes-McAlister and Rebecca Shapiro

Research Institution: University of Guelph (U of G)

Timeline: May 2019 – April 2022   


  • Define mechanisms of plant resistance towards mycotoxin accumulation in FHB of wheat and barley.
  • Identify and characterize plant pathways responsible for the response to mycotoxins (i.e., mycotoxin degradation).
  • Quantify metabolites produced upon mycotoxin exposure and assess their impact on plant health.
  • Validate mycotoxin-degradation pathways and identify genes for selective breeding strategies.


  • The identification of candidate genes for breeding of pathogen and mycotoxin-resistant wheat and barley varieties will allow farmers to grow higher yielding and improved quality crops.
  • The identification of candidate factors that may serve as targets for novel treatment strategies against mycotoxin accumulation for wheat and barley crops will encourage industry-based partnerships for the development of new bio-fungicides in promotion of environmental sustainability.

Scientific Summary:

For some of Ontario’s most popular crops (e.g., corn and wheat), Fusarium infection can lead to losses of over $200 million/year in epidemic years through yield reduction and diminished crop quality. In cereal crops, Fusarium head blight (FHB) is associated with mycotoxin production (e.g., deoxynivalenol (DON)), which can have severe consequences for the swine industry in particular. Consequences arising from consumption of contaminated feed can include vomiting or reduced feed intake. This proposal aims to address the needs of farmers and industrial end-users by using systems biology to define and characterize mechanisms of mycotoxin degradation within wheat and barley. Ultimately, we aim to identify specific resistance-associated genetic markers for breeders that would facilitate development of varieties more resistant to Fusarium and DON accumulation.

The research program aims to generate an understanding of the biological factors that wheat and barley exploit for mycotoxin resistance and degradation. Using a systems biology approach, we will: 1) Look at the global makeup of the cell in terms of protein and genetic transcripts to identify key plant pathways responsible for mycotoxin accumulation and degradation; 2) Analyze metabolites produced by plants following exposure to mycotoxins to identify those metabolites specifically generated upon mycotoxin processing (e.g., degradation); and 3) use CRISPR gene editing techniques to knock out pathways and improve mycotoxin degradation or resistance properties of wheat and barley. Ultimately, the results from this comprehensive analysis will yield critical new insights into candidate genes for breeding of mycotoxin-resistant wheat and barley varieties.

External Funding Partners:


Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance

The project was funded in part by the Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance, a collaboration between the government of Ontario and the University of Guelph.