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A SWEET solution to rice blight

8th November 2019

Two studies offer a powerful strategy for combating bacterial blight in rice.

Bacterial blight is an important disease of rice that is particularly destructive in Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, exacerbated by the heavy rains of the monsoon seasons. Estimated crop loss due to bacterial blight may be as high as 75%, with millions of hectares of rice affected annually. In this issue, an international team of researchers describes the use of CRISPR editing to generate rice plants that are broadly resistant to the main pathogen that causes rice blight, Xanthomonas oryzae pv. oryzae (Xoo)1. To enhance the durability and management of resistance, the team has also developed a kit to trace the disease, and its virulence and resistance alleles2.

The most sustainable, cost-effective and safe approach to controlling rice blight is the use of genetically resistant plants. A total of 43 different genes conferring host resistance to bacterial blight have been identified in rice so far, and a subset has been characterized3. Through genomics-assisted breeding, more than ten resistant rice varieties have been developed. Several of these varieties4, which rely on resistance genes Xa4xa5, xa13, Xa21, Xa33 and Xa38, have been released for commercial cultivation across the globe.

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