A research project led by AAFC’s Xiben Wang, is delving into soil microbial communities in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The focus is on understanding the genetic makeup of these communities to identify crop rotations that can harness the potential of naturally occurring biocontrol agents against major pathogens.
Focus on Fusarium and other soil-borne disease
Primarily concentrating on Fusarium head blight (FHB) in barley and oats, Wang’s team aims to uncover how different crop rotations influence the soil microbiomes’ ability to suppress crop diseases. The project involves small-plot trials in Morden and Saskatoon, comparing two-year rotations of cereal crops, pulses, and oilseeds. Early results reveal that short rotations can have a significant impact on the microbial composition of the soil.
The study also used DNA analysis to identify the top five soil-borne fungal pathogens: Fusarium species, Ustilago species (smuts), Alternaria species (leaf diseases, storage molds), Leptosphaeria (blackleg), and Rhizoctonia (root rot).
Anti-Fungal biocontrol genes
A key aspect of the research involves the analysis of bacterial genes associated with anti-fungal compound production. Using shotgun sequencing, the team screens for specific genes related to disease control, with potential applications in identifying key biocontrol genes crucial for fighting major fungal pathogens.
As the team wraps up data analysis in the coming months, future plans include expanding the study to screen soil samples from producers’ fields across Manitoba. Additionally, Wang aims to explore the impact of other practices like tillage, fungicides, fertilizers, and crop varieties on soil microbiomes.
The outcomes of this research, funded by the Western Grains Research Foundation, Manitoba Crop Alliance, and Ag Action Manitoba, hold promise for developing crop production systems that enhance biocontrol bacteria populations, reduce pathogen populations, and ultimately benefit both producers and the environment.