Ben Hales

Postdoctoral Scientist Designing Future Wheat, Plant Health

Fusarium head blight (FHB) is an economically important fungal disease of wheat and other small grain cereals, both from yield reductions and the accumulation of mycotoxins in the grain of infected wheat heads.

Genetic resistance to the disease has been challenging due to the quantitative polygenic nature underlying resistance, complicated further by the large and complex wheat genome.

The primary aim of Ben’s research is to fine map and characterise an FHB susceptibility factor. The disruption or deletion of the susceptibility factor results in much better resistance to the spread of the fungus in the wheat head.

He is using a wheat population (cultivar Paragon) which has been gamma-irradiated to generate genome-wide deletions.

Ben has designed genetic markers across the region containing the susceptibility factor and screened the Paragon population with these markers. This has been sufficient to identify a number of lines containing deletions, varying in size, across the interval containing the susceptibility factor.

FHB disease experiments have been used to identify lines in which the susceptibility factor has been lost, thereby restricting the susceptibility factor to a small interval.

By the end of my project, Ben hopes to have sufficiently restricted the susceptibility interval to be able to identify a couple of strong gene candidates responsible for the susceptibility.