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New form of resistance to light leaf spot discovered in oilseed rape

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2 September 2011

A team of researchers funded by BBSRC and KWS UK Ltd and led by Professor Bruce Fitt, formerly of Rothamsted Research and now at the University of Hertfordshire, has found a new form of resistance to the damaging pathogen that causes light leaf spot in oilseed rape - one of the world's most important crops.

In a paper published in Plant Pathology this week (31 August 2011), the team describes a research project carried out at Rothamsted Research that looked at disease in UK oilseed rape and came up with new findings about resistance to pathogens, which could impact on the global bid to protect arable crops from disease.

Results indicate a novel form of resistance in a specific variety of Brassica napus (oilseed rape) mediated by a single so-called "R gene". R genes are important for plant resistance to pathogens and they work in various different ways. In this case, the R gene produces a protein inside the plant that can limit pathogen asexual reproduction (which occurs regularly during the cropping season) but allows sexual reproduction (which generally occurs only once a year) and so significantly reduces the chances of a light leaf spot epidemic developing during the crop growing season.

"This is the first time that anyone has come up with a finding like this in crop resistance," said Professor Fitt, a leading authority on oilseed rape diseases. "Our results could lead to new strategies for breeding resistance against crop pathogens, leading to increased yields and reduced costs both to the farmer and the environment and reduce the need for chemical fungicides."

Oilseed rape is one of the world's most important brassica crops. Grown for the production of vegetable oil, and for use in biodiesel and animal feed, oilseed rape makes a significant contribution to the agricultural economies of Europe, Australia, Canada, China and India.

There is a major drive to increase global food yields by controlling diseases. Under new European Union legislation, some fungicides will be banned and those that will still be available will be too expensive for developing countries to use.

According to Professor Fitt, "The holy grail for crop breeders is a resistance that lasts and is not broken down by changes in pathogen populations. Examples such as the resistance we have discovered with a specific variety of oilseed rape offers new possibilities for breeders."

Co-authors of the paper: The effect of R gene-mediated resistance in Brassica napus on asexual and sexual sporulation of Pyrenopeziza brassicae (light leaf spot) are from Rothamsted Research, the School of Biology at the University of Nottingham and KWS UK Ltd.

The paper can be accessed at: .


Notes to editors

For more information or photos, please contact Hélène Murphy, University of Hertfordshire Press Office on 01707 28 4095 or email:

About the University of Hertfordshire

The University of Hertfordshire is the UK's leading business-facing University and an exemplar in the sector. It is innovative and enterprising and challenges individuals and organisations to excel.

The University of Hertfordshire is one of the region's largest employers with over 2,700 staff and a turnover of more than £235 million. With a student community of over 27,500 including more than 2,000 international students from over eighty five different countries, the University has a global network of over 200,000 alumni. For more information, please visit

The University of Hertfordshire was awarded the Times Higher Education 'Entrepreneurial University of the Year 2010'.

About Rothamsted Research

Rothamsted Research is almost certainly the oldest agricultural research station in the world. Over its 160 year history, Rothamsted Research has built an enviable reputation for world-class scientific research to deliver knowledge, innovation and new practices to increase crop productivity and quality, and to develop environmentally sustainable solutions for agriculture'. Rothamsted Research receives a total of £23.8M in strategic programme grants from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.


BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

Funded by Government, and with an annual budget of around £445M, we support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

For more information about BBSRC, our science and our impact see: .
For more information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes see: .