Plant Pathology
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Fusarium Research

​​Programme leader: Prof Altus Viljoen

Plant pathogens belonging to the fungal species Fusarium are of great importance to continued food production in the world. They are well known to cause diseases of important staple food crops such as maize, wheat, sorghum, rice and bananas, and in some instances produce mycotoxins that can be fatal to humans and animals. Many diseases caused by Fusarium spp. and their toxins cannot be treated, and have to be prevented. The programme on Fusarium diseases of agricultural crops, therefore, focuses on the characterisation and management of Fusarium spp. associated with Fusarium wilt and mycotoxin production in staple food crops, specifically related to the identification and characterisation of Fusarium spp. using conventional and molecular techniques, quantitative detection of Fusarium spp. and their mycotoxins, epidemiology and etiology of Fusarium spp., field management of Fusarium diseases and the mycotoxins they produce, biological control of pathogenic Fusarium isolates, and understanding the interaction of plants with Fusarium.
The most effective means to prevent damage caused by Fusarium spp. to agricultural crops is by planting tolerant or resistant material. Such tolerance/resistance depends on the ability of the fungus to enter, colonise and damage the plant, and the ability of the plant to prevent or resist damage caused by the fungus. To exploit plant resistance as a means of disease management, a proper knowledge of Fusarium, its genetics, pathogenicity and toxicity, under different environmental conditions, is required. In this programme, the interaction between agricultural crops and Fusarium spp. is investigated by means of comparative and functional genetics of the Fusarium-plant interactions, the isolation and identification of defence-related genes in agricultural crops, the identification of virulence genes in Fusarium, studies on the evolutionary biology and phylogenetics of Fusarium, and the unconventional improvement of plants for resistance to Fusarium spp. Greenhouse and field evaluation of natural and induced resistance to Fusarium pathogens of agricultural crops are also conducted in collaboration with the ARC.

(Visit our website on Fusarium wilt of bananas in Africa: