Emerging and re-emerging diseases of humans, animals and plants pose a significant hazard to public health and food security. With recent advances in sequencing technology, bacteriologists and virologists are now integrating high-resolution genotypic data into pathogen surveillance activities. However, the application of genomics to emerging filamentous plant pathogens has lagged. To address this, we developed a robust and rapid “field pathogenomics” strategy. We applied this method in 2013 to the wheat yellow rust pathogen Puccinia striiformis f. sp. tritici (Pst), using gene sequencing of Pst-infected wheat leaves taken directly from the field to gain insight into the population structure of a re-emerging pathogen. Our analysis uncovered a dramatic shift in the Pst population in the UK and supports the hypothesis that recent introduction of a diverse set of exotic Pst lineages may have displaced the previous population. Gene sequencing of infected host tissue can also be leveraged to assess the genotype of the host, rapidly confirming whether previously resistant wheat varieties have indeed been overcome. We have now expanded this study to analyze Pst-infected plant samples from across Europe and beyond and will provide an update on the insights we have gained regarding Pst population dynamics. Working with cross-institutional and industrial partners we are now developing this technique further to reduce cost so it can be applied routinely within the U.K. cereal disease surveillance program.
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Management of the cereal rusts currently relies on the use of fungicides and varietal resistance. Host resistance can be rapidly overcome by mutations in the pathogen population and for this reason virulence surveys are undertaken worldwide to give early warning on any changes. The UK Cereal Pathogen Virulence Survey (UKCPVS) was established in 1967 following an outbreak of yellow rust on the variety Rothwell Perdix. The UKCPVS currently monitors the wheat yellow rust and brown rust pathogen populations as well as the wheat and barley powdery mildew pathogen populations. A watching brief is maintained on barley yellow rust. In 2011 a new Pst race was detected; named the Warrior race after the variety on which it was first found. Initial tests on differential host lines suggested that the race was another stepwise mutation with an added virulence for Yr7 in addition to a combination of virulences to Yr6, Yr9, Yr17 and Yr32. Other characteristics of this race, however, suggested something different from previous race changes with an increase in telial production seen under field conditions. In addition, this new race was seen simultaneously in multiple locations throughout Europe (www.wheatrust.org) in contrast to the more gradual appearance of new variants seen previously. Subsequent genotypic analysis of isolates (Hubbard et al. 2015, Genome Biol. 16:23) demonstrated that the new race was an exotic incursion. Results presented at the meeting will summarize some of the key changes in the pathogen populations, such as the arrival of the Warrior Pst race in 2011 and the re-emergence of the Glasgow race of the brown rust pathogen in 2014.