Cutting-edge, Elsoms-sponsored research points the way to canker resistant parsnip varieties

Studies carried out by Dr Lauren Chappell, now an Elsoms plant pathologist, have identified the three main pathogens responsible for parsnip canker, providing a secure platform for the development of disease-resistant lines.

Studies carried out by Dr Lauren Chappell, now an Elsoms plant pathologist, have identified the three main pathogens responsible for parsnip canker, providing a secure platform for the development of disease-resistant lines.  Elsoms, a global leader in parsnip breeding, is investing heavily in research, state-of-the art breeding techniques and seed production to bring UK growers the very best varieties.  Canker typically accounts for annual crop losses of around 20% so reducing its impact is critical. Dr Chappell’s research was carried out at the internationally renowned University of Warwick, Warwick Crop Centre, via an Elsoms funded BBSRC CASE (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council - Collaborative Awards in Science and Engineering) PhD studentship.

“The first step in our research was to identify current pathogens responsible for canker, via a comprehensive survey of samples from across the UK.” said Dr Chappell. “There had been no relevant studies published in this area for several decades and dominant pathogens can change, particularly in response to the use of fungicides. We then went on to develop protocols for testing resistance to the identified pathogens.  The final stage of our research was gene mapping studies. These involved correlating genetic information with visible signs of the disease to identify markers of disease resistance. ”

Canker, a fungal disease which typically thrives in damp conditions, blights parsnip roots with bruises and punctured skin, wiping out crop value. It is currently the most economically damaging disease for growers in the UK. Elsoms is consequently working hard to develop resistant varieties, both independently and with strong external partners such as The Warwick Crop Centre. The academic expertise Dr Chappell gained during her PhD studentship is now being put to excellent use within the company, in her full time role as a plant pathologist.

“With the core pathogens identified, robust resistance testing protocols in place and an ongoing programme to identify genetic markers, we have the knowledge base and tools needed to bring new varieties to market as quickly as possible,” said Dr Chappell.  “Genetic markers are particularly helpful as they allow us to develop new lines without growing the full plant. Using traditional methods new parsnip varieties can take up to 15 years to commercialise but with state-of-the- techniques we can significantly cut this time. This means we can deliver varieties that offer growers greater profitability, faster.”

Dr Chappell’s research project is entitled “Characterisation of parsnip canker pathogens and the identification of plant resistance.” For more information about Elsoms breeding for parsnip disease resistance, please call Martin Strickson on 01775 715000 or email martin.strickson@elsoms.com.

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