Picture of wheat head scab infected with Fusarium scab

Recent Advances in Wheat Head Scab Research in China

Li-Feng Chen, Gui-Hua Bai, and Anne E. Desjardins


USDA, Agricultural Research Service




Pathogen Biology





Disease Control




Other Resources





"There is still a need for long term commitment to combining high WHS resistance with desired agronomic traits to improve WHS resistance in commercial cultivars."





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Chinese scientists have made great progress in research on WHS. F. graminearum has been identified as the major pathogen of WHS. Anastomosis between isolates has been demonstrated as a possible source for variation in fungal cultural characteristics and virulence. DON production by F. graminearum has been positively correlated with fungal virulence on wheat. Resistance to WHS has been associated with preformed structures in the rachis of wheat spikes. Some compounds in spikes, such as superoxide dismutase, catalase, phenylalanine ammonia lyase, ascorbic acid, and certain proteins, may also be involved in WHS resistance. To reduce the loss due to head scab epidemics, integrated control strategies have been developed. Deployment of resistant cultivars and application of fungicides are two key components in the strategies. To facilitate resistance breeding, more accurate disease evaluation methods have been developed. Resistance genes have been identified not only from wheat cultivars, but also from some wheat relatives. Introduction of resistance genes from alien species resulted in development of alien addition lines or alien translocation lines. Increased resistance levels in cultivars with desired agronomic traits have been achieved by using recurrent selection approaches. Wheat cultivars with high resistance and yield potential have also been derived from somaclonal variants of susceptible commercial cultivars. These new breeding strategies provide new resistance sources and useful tools for further WHS resistance improvement in wheat. However, the majority of wheat cultivars currently used for commercial production in China are still moderately resistant or moderately susceptible to head scab. There is still a need for long term commitment to combining high WHS resistance with desired agronomic traits to improve WHS resistance in commercial cultivars. Application of biotechnology will assist manipulation of WHS resistance genes during the breeding process. In the short term, application of fungicides is necessary to reduce wheat losses in most WHS epidemic areas in China. Carbendazim has proven to be effective for more than 20 years, but increasing resistance of F. graminearum to carbendazim raises concerns about its continued effectiveness in the near future. Therefore, new and more effective fungicides need to be developed as soon as possible. To achieve these goals, research is needed to understand the mechanisms of wheat resistance to infection, and the mechanisms of fungal virulence to wheat. Structural and functional genomics of wheat, F. graminearum, and their interaction should provide insight into the mechanisms of resistance and help isolate resistance genes from wheat and other sources. International cooperation will shorten the time needed to solve the WHS problem.

 Key Areas for Future Research
  • Develop New Fungicides
  • Mechanism of Resistance
  • Mechanism of Virulence
  • Structural / Functional Genomics
  • Isolation of Resistance Genes



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