Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

November 20, 2013 10:01 ET

Government of Canada Investment in Research Will Protect Wheat Crops

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwired - Nov. 20, 2013) - Government of Canada researchers, led by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's Dr. Tom Fetch in Winnipeg, are making progress in combatting a potentially devastating wheat disease known as Ug99. Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz announced today a $1.26 million investment under Growing Forward 2 in ongoing research, which builds on the $13 million the Government provided in 2009.

"The discoveries coming out of this research will protect farmers' livelihoods and help provide food security in Canada and around the world," said Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz. "As we continue to work more with industry through broad networks like the new wheat cluster and the Canadian Wheat Alliance, we will continue to produce public good research that will prove invaluable to the prosperity of the sector."

The research team has identified three genes providing resistance to Ug99. Molecular markers are being developed and will be useful in wheat breeding efforts. This additional funding will help scientists discover and genetically map these sources of resistance in the fight against the disease.

Ug99 is a wheat stem rust first discovered in Uganda in 1999. Crops from Africa to Western Asia are already being affected and an estimated 90% of global wheat varieties - including wheat grown in Canada - are susceptible to the disease.

Although Ug99 is not yet present in North America, AAFC scientists have been proactively working to not only protect Canada's wheat crops but also to help the global effort in protecting world wheat supplies. Through coordinated crossbreeding efforts, AAFC researchers will speed up the replacement of susceptible varieties with new varieties that are higher yielding and durably resistant to Ug99.

The AAFC team includes geneticists, pathologists and plant breeders from its research centres across the country. The goal is to incorporate resistance to Ug99 into Canadian wheat lines and ensure that new cultivars have at least two effective resistant genes to help prevent rust pathogens from adapting to the resistance.

The AAFC team also participates in international efforts to protect wheat crops from the disease, including the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative, the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat (DRRW) project and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). DRRW is an international effort that unites 23 research institutions studying all aspects of wheat rust - from pathology to variety development and distribution. The Government of Canada has provided seed of the resistant lines to wheat breeders at CIMMYT to develop improved local varieties in affected areas and in developing countries that are most at risk.


The 2009 investment

These discoveries came out of the Government of Canada's 2009 investment of $13 million under the Animal and Plant Health research initiative, established under Growing Forward. The goals of the project were to build on - and boost -- ongoing work on wheat rust with collaboration from Canadian universities, but with a new urgency, to discover new sources of resistance.

This initiative concentrated on making scientific advancements in the understanding of the Wheat Stem Rust variant Ug99 - a fungal pathogen causing a wheat disease that is spreading globally - which could impact the Canadian sector as current wheat varieties have limited resistance to this new fungus.

The successful identification of genes with high levels of resistance and the development of molecular markers for use in wheat breeding is a major breakthrough and return on this investment.

The funding was used for research support, salaries of AAFC researchers dedicated to the project, and for infrastructure.

For more information visit:


A new type of stem rust was discovered in Uganda, Africa in 1999 and termed Ug99. The strain has spread slowly across east Africa and newer variants of Ug99 spread in January of 2006 to Yemen and north into Sudan. It is expected to spread to Egypt, Turkey and the Middle East and on to India.

Current Canadian and international commercial wheat varieties have little or no resistance to this rust species. Should the rust become established in Canada it would devastate the Canadian cereals sector a situation that had serious economic consequences for Canada during previous cereal rust outbreaks in the last century.

Stem rust is the most destructive disease of wheat. In 1954, it destroyed about 40% of the Canadian spring wheat crop. AAFC plant breeding and pathology work provided resistant varieties that have protected the Canadian wheat industry from this threat since this last outbreak.

The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) is providing leadership for the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative that has concluded to date that only 0.3% of the more than 44 million hectares planted with known varieties of wheat has moderate resistance to Ug99. AAFC scientists will continue to work within the international Global Rust Initiative to share information and exchange germplasm where appropriate. AAFC continues to work closely with the USDA on this issue.

Contact Information

  • Media Relations
    Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
    Ottawa, Ontario
    Follow us on Twitter @AAFC_Canada

    Jeffrey English
    Press Secretary
    Office of the Honourable Gerry Ritz