MINNEAPOLIS — A new method for discovering and cloning genes could accelerate the development of rust resistance in wheat.

In a study published in the journal Nature Biotechnology, scientists at the University of Minnesota describe a new method for discovering and cloning not just one, but potentially the entire complement of disease resistance genes in a plant species.

The cloning protocol is based on the fact that many disease-resistance genes in plants possess a unique DNA sequence. By targeting this sequence in a wild wheat species, researchers isolated four resistance genes within just six months — a process that would normally take a decade or longer for just a single gene.

The wild wheat is one of the three progenitor species that contributed to modern bread wheat.

Wheat is one of the most important food crops in the world, supplying nearly 20 percent of the calories consumed by humans. To feed the burgeoning world population, losses due to disease must be minimized.

Stem rust is considered the most devastating of the diseases attacking wheat worldwide. Stem rust is caused by a fungus whose microscopic reddish-orange spores can infect and destroy wheat crops quickly.

Minnesota and the Dakotas are prone to stem rust and have suffered three epidemics the last century.

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