“It is of the utmost importance to rigorously explore natural plant defense mechanisms and traits, which we could breed back into cultivated wheat to protect them against insects, instead of using harmful pesticides, which do not even work that well,” says Prof. Vered Tzin of the French Associates Institutes for Agriculture and Biotechnology of Drylands, one of the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. She holds the Sonnenfeldt-Goldman Career Development Chair for Desert Research and is a member of the Goldman-Sonnenfeldt School of Sustainability and Climate Change.
One of the most serious threats to wheat are aphids, tiny insects which suck out the wheat‘s nutrients and also introduce deadly plant viruses. There are about 5,000 different species of aphids all over the world.
Second, wheat produces a poison – a phytochemical called benzoxazinoid – that discourages bugs from eating the wheat.
PhD student, Zhaniya Batyrshina from the Tzin lab, is the first to have isolated the gene that controls the production of this poison.
“Now that we know which gene controls its production, we can generate improved cultivated wheat with the same self defense capabilities,” explains Prof. Tzin.
She and her colleagues’ findings were published recently in the peer-reviewed Journal of Experimental Botany and Frontiers in Plant Science.
“Wheat is an essential staple for so many and we must do all we can to safeguard this critical crop from loss by insects and disease,” says Prof. Tzin.