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23 November, 2006 - 18:34 By Staff Reporter

New agricultural enzyme could save multi-millions

The humble oat has yielded a newly unearthed enzyme that could be used to prevent major crop disease, estimated to cost the agricultural industry £60m annually.The discovery was made by scientists from Norwich Research Park investigating ways to protect crops against fungal diseases, including the voracious ‘take-all’, a blight which affects around half of the UK's wheat crops.

The team found that an enzyme produced in oats, Sad2, helps produce a chemical that makes the plant invulnerable to fungal infections.

Take-all is a fungal infection that is most damaging to intensively grown wheat and barley. It survives in the infected soil after one crop, then invades the roots of the following crop, progressively destroying the root system. In serious cases it can kill the whole crop; hence the name take-all.

The team are currently investigating how to introduce the gene coding for the enzyme into crops. "If we could transfer this gene cluster from oats into other plants, it might be possible to breed cereals that are resistant to devastating crop diseases such as take-all" said Professor Anne Osbourn from the John Innes Centre in Norwich.

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