Professor Vared Tzin from Ben-Gurion University's desert research institutes isolated the genes that help wheat defend itself against pests. The discovery has enormous significance for wheat crops in the world
Wheat provides about 20% of the caloric protein consumption of the world population. Aside from challenges and obstacles in increasing the harvest due to human actions such as the war in Ukraine, the main threat comes from nature itself. These plants are constantly attacked by herbivorous insects, which sometimes cause serious damage and significant crop loss. Furthermore, the gradual increase in global temperatures promoted the expansion of pest populations into new areas as well as their rate of reproduction. For example, one of the most significant pests of wheat are aphids, tiny insects that 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.
In the past, wheat had pest-fighting abilities, but cultivated wheat has undergone so much genetic engineering that it has lost many of its defense mechanisms, allowing insects and pests to destroy much of the crop. This weakness of the wheat forces the farmers to use various pesticides, some of which pollute the soil, the crop and create a chain of damage to nature.
Fortunately, the natural protective properties of wheat have not been completely lost: Professor Vared Tzin, from the institute for agriculture and biotechnology of arid regions At Ben-Gurion University's Sde Boker campus, she deciphered how wild wheat protects itself from insects. As the successors of Dr. Aharon Aharonson, who discovered the mother of wheat more than a hundred years ago, the laboratory team in collaboration with research groups from the University of Haifa, the Volcanic Institute (the Agricultural Director) and Purdue University (USA) cracked the way in which wild wheat defends itself against insects and isolated the genetic part associated with it, so the next step is to integrate the gene into cultivated wheat and reduce the use of synthetic pesticides.
"It is of the utmost importance to rigorously research defense mechanisms and natural properties of plants, which we can grow back into cultivated wheat to protect them from insects, instead of using synthetic pesticides, which don't even work that well," says Professor Vared Tzin, also a member of the School of Sustainability and Change Goldman-Sonnenfeld climate at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
The staff Researching the wild wheat 'Amer', which is the mother wheat of durum wheat (pasta) and bread wheat, found that the wild wheat has at least two methods of protection against insect pests. First, wild wheat has a coating of "hairs" that prevent insects from finding a place to burrow into the stem. Second, the wheat produces a chemical toxin called benzoxazinoid, whose function is to deter insects from eating the wheat. Professor Zinn and the laboratory team were able to isolate the genes responsible for these abilities of the wild wheat. ” Wheat is an essential staple for so many and we must do all we can to protect this critical crop from loss by insects and disease. Now that we know which gene controls its production, we can produce improved cultured wheat with the same self-defense abilities," explains Professor Zinn.
In light of the discovery by Professor Vared Tzin and the laboratory team, the next step will be to conduct a series of experiments to integrate the "defense" gene of the wild wheat into the DNA sequence of the cultivated wheat. The findings of the research, supported by the National Science Foundation and the Binational Foundation for Agricultural Research and Development, were recently published in the journals Journal of Experimental Botany and Frontiers in Plant Science.
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