Multinational plant breeder KWS has filed a patent application for a genetic technology that could prevent ergot developing in rye crops. Ergot is harmful to humans and animals, and its presence downgrades the value of harvested crops.

 KWS Hybrid Rye

KWS Hybrid Rye

The patent concerns the enhanced restorer gene Rfp1, which is used in hybrid rye to produce large amounts of pollen. Producing large amounts of pollen improves the rate of fertilisation, giving effective protection against ergot. The company points out that its hybrid rye is already rated for minimal levels of ergot infection. 

Viktor Korzun, head of breeding technologies cereals at KWS, has led the project in Germany for several years, along with colleagues Peer Wilde and Jutta Menzel. “This move means we’re well on the way to securing the rights for an extremely important trait in rye breeding,” he says. “Plant breeders know many restorer genes. However, Rfp1 is very efficient. It ensures that KWS’ rye hybrids produce a lot of pollen again. Other restorer genes are less effective.”

KWS now knows the genome sequence of Rfp1 and its exact position on chromosome 4R. The gene originates from an old Iranian rye landrace. The latter gives only very low yields, but is nevertheless of great value as a genetic resource because it contains the powerful Rfp1 gene which gives good protection against ergot.