Genetic diversity and disease control in rice

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Abstract

Crop heterogeneity is a possible solution to the vulnerability of monocultured crops to disease1,2,3. Both theory4 and observation2,3 indicate that genetic heterogeneity provides greater disease suppression when used over large areas, though experimental data are lacking. Here we report a unique cooperation among farmers, researchers and extension personnel in Yunnan Province, China—genetically diversified rice crops were planted in all the rice fields in five townships in 1998 and ten townships in 1999. Control plots of monocultured crops allowed us to calculate the effect of diversity on the severity of rice blast, the major disease of rice5. Disease-susceptible rice varieties planted in mixtures with resistant varieties had 89% greater yield and blast was 94% less severe than when they were grown in monoculture. The experiment was so successful that fungicidal sprays were no longer applied by the end of the two-year programme. Our results support the view that intraspecific crop diversification provides an ecological approach to disease control that can be highly effective over a large area and contribute to the sustainability of crop production.

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Figure 1: Planting arrangements in rice variety mixture and monoculture survey plots in 1999 and patterned after those used by farmers in Yunnan Province.
Figure 2: Panicle blast severity (mean percentage of panicle branches that were necrotic due to infection by Magnaporthe grisea) of rice varieties planted in monocultures and mixtures.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the Asian Development Bank, the Yunnan Province Government, The Ministry of Science and Technology of China, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), and a scientific agreement between IRRI and Oregon State University. We thank the personnel of the provincial and county Plant Protection Stations and participating farmers for their contributions to this project, and M. Hoffer for computer assistance and graphics.

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Correspondence to Christopher C. Mundt.

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Zhu, Y., Chen, H., Fan, J. et al. Genetic diversity and disease control in rice. Nature 406, 718–722 (2000) doi:10.1038/35021046

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