Forage Genetics International (FGI) is the first and only company to receive patent approval on a native DNA sequence for resistance to anthracnose race 5 in alfalfa. Anthracnose is a significant fungal disease with multiple races, or types, causing stem and crown rot. The disease leads to defoliation and can cause yield losses of up to 25-30%. If severe enough, anthracnose can kill alfalfa plants, diminishing stands greatly.
FGI breeders now have a powerful tool to add to their toolbox. “By developing DNA markers tightly linked to the disease resistance trait, breeders can deliver better products to market faster. Traditionally, introducing a new native trait to the most current and elite varieties was a laborious and time-consuming process. Now, we’ve developed DNA markers and can incorporate that protection into alfalfa varieties at a highly accelerated rate.
We commit ourselves to finding problems and solving them quickly. By pushing the industry to innovate, we continue to lead the alfalfa industry toward better products and more sustainability,” said Pete Theisen, vice president and general manager of FGI.
“Anthracnose has been a major alfalfa pathogen since it was first identified in the early 1970s. As the leader in genetically engineered and native traits, the FGI team saw an opportunity when they found a low level of infection on cultivars known to have high resistance to races 1 and 2 in early 2014. Immediately, we worked to confirm it was a new race, started an aggressive screening process for resistance and developed DNA markers that can predict resistance with very high accuracy. In this case, we determined that a plant with the anthracnose race 5 marker is 102x more likely to be resistant than one without it,” said Dr. David Weakley, director, Forage Nutrition Research, FGI. Since then, University of Minnesota researchers also have verified race 5 as distinct from races 1 and 2.
Anthracnose can appear anytime during the growing season, on stands of any age, but it mostly strikes when growing conditions are warm and moist. So far, race 5 has been found in the Midwest and Northeast where there’s high humidity during the growing season.
When managing the disease, a producer’s most effective line of defense is to choose a variety with built-in multi-race anthracnose resistance. FGI has developed varieties with native trait resistant to anthracnose races 1 and 5, the only alfalfa varieties available with resistance to race 5 on the market.