Essentially all plant species exhibit heritable genetic variation for resistance to a variety of plant diseases caused by fungi, bacteria, oomycetes or viruses. Disease losses in crop monocultures are already significant, and would be greater but for applications of disease-controlling agrichemicals. For sustainable intensification of crop production, we argue that disease control should as far as possible be achieved using genetics rather than using costly recurrent chemical sprays. The latter imply CO2 emissions from diesel fuel and potential soil compaction from tractor journeys. Great progress has been made in the past 25 years in our understanding of the molecular basis of plant disease resistance mechanisms, and of how pathogens circumvent them. These insights can inform more sophisticated approaches to elevating disease resistance in crops that help us tip the evolutionary balance in favour of the crop and away from the pathogen. We illustrate this theme with an account of a genetically modified (GM) blight-resistant potato trial in Norwich, using the Rpi-vnt1.1 gene isolated from a wild relative of potato, Solanum venturii, and introduced by GM methods into the potato variety Desiree.
One contribution of 16 to a Discussion Meeting Issue ‘Achieving food and environmental security: new approaches to close the gap’.
© 2014 The Authors. Published by the Royal Society under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/, which permits unrestricted use, provided the original author and source are credited.