Funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and using pathogen genomics, Professor Paul Birch from the Division of Plant Sciences, University of Dundee (at Scottish Crop Research Institute - SCRI), alongside researchers from Warwick HRI and the University of Aberdeen, is looking at how the most significant potato pathogen, Phytopthora infestans causes disease and identifying essential pathogen virulence genes that may be durable targets for host resistance proteins.
Crop losses and chemical control of blight cost more than £3billion globally each year. Professor Birch and his colleagues have discovered a genetic motif - RXLR, which is necessary for the P. infestans pathogen proteins to enter the potato cells.
Professor Birch, said: "What we have seen is an evolutionary arms race between a pathogen and its host and, so far, the pathogen has been winning.
"We are really excited by the discovery of RXLR. This has provided a signature to search for proteins that are delivered inside host cells, where they may be exposed to plant defence surveillance systems."
The scientists hope the study will lead to novel strategies to control or prevent crop losses and environmental damage for a wide variety of plant diseases, not just potato blight.
BBSRC Chief Executive Professor Doug Kell, said: "Potatoes are the third most important food crop in the world, but blight continues to devastate crops worldwide, having huge economic and dietary ramifications. This exciting research highlights the invaluable role that genomics has to play in preventing crop losses in potatoes and other crops and helping to address the urgent issue of global food security."
This research is featured in the latest edition of Business, the BBSRC research highlights magazine.