Investigating the potential for re-emergence of wheat stem rust in a changing climate


Wheat stem rust is a notoriously damaging disease of wheat and barley and occurs in most wheat growing areas worldwide. Today, in western Europe the stem rust pathogen, Puccinia graminis f. sp. tritici (Pgt), is experiencing a resurgence after many decades of absence. Pgt is also well suited to warm conditions, and as climate changes this could facilitate the expansion in frequency of stem rust epidemics in regions previously unsuitable for its proliferation. Accordingly, our analysis has shown that over the past 25 years climatic conditions have become increasingly conducive for Pgt growth and infection in the UK. With the number of sporadic incidences of stem rust in western Europe increasing there is a need to understand the diversity of the stem rust pathogen in this region and how future changes in climate may impact the risk of wheat stem rust re-emergence in the UK.

The aim of this project is to evaluate the threat of Pgt to UK cereals in a changing climate. To achieve this the student will (i) use our highly innovative MARPLE (Mobile And Real-time PLant disEase) diagnostics platform to assess the genetic diversity of Pgt aross western Europe, (ii) phenotypically characterise these Pgt isolates to understand their threat to wheat production, (iii) assess the temperature responses of a selection of Pgt isolates during disease development and (iv) use this new knowledge to develop a model to explore the effects of climate change on future disease risk.

This PhD studentship will provide a unique opportunity to join a multi-disciplinary research programme in the Saunders Lab at JIC and develop skills in bioinformatics, third-generation sequencing, plant pathology and epidemiology. Whilst receiving additional training in climate modelling provided by leaders in this field at Exeter University.

*Saunders D.G.O., Pretorius Z.A., HovmĂžller M.S. (2019) Tackling the re-emergence of wheat stem rust in Western Europe. Communications Biology 2(1): 51. []

Lewis C.M., Persoons A., Bebber D.P., Kigathi R.N., Maintz J., Findlay K., et al. *Wulff B.B.H., *Saunders D.G.O. (2018) Potential for re-emergence of wheat stem rust in the United Kingdom. Communications Biology 1(1): 13. []

Chaloner T.M., Gurr S.J., Bebber D.P. (2021) Plant pathogen infection risk tracks global crop yields under climate change. Nature Climate Change 11: 710-715. []