Genetic diversity and disease control in rice

Article metrics


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.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

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.


  1. 1

    Browning, J. A. & Frey, K. J. Multiline cultivars as a means of disease control. Annu. Rev. Phytopathol. 7, 355–382 (1969).

  2. 2

    Wolfe, M. S. The current status and prospects of multiline cultivars and variety mixtures for disease resistance. Annu. Rev. Phytopathol. 23, 251–273 (1985).

  3. 3

    Mundt, C. C. in Rice Blast Disease (eds Zeigler, R. S., Leong, S. A. & Teng, P. S.) 293–308 (CAB International, Wallingford, 1994).

  4. 4

    Garrett, K. A. & Mundt, C. C. Epidemiology in mixed host populations. Phytopathology 89, 984– 990 (1999).

  5. 5

    Ou, S. H. Rice Diseases 2nd edn (Commonwealth Mycological Institute, Kew, 1985).

  6. 6

    Polis, G. A., Anderson, W. B. & Holt, R. D. Toward an integration of landscape and food web ecology: The dynamics of spatially subsidized food webs. Annu. Rev. Ecol. Syst. 28, 289–316 ( 1997).

  7. 7

    Dwyer, G., Elkinton, J. S. & Hajek, A. E. Spatial scale and the spread of a fungal pathogen of gypsy moth. Am. Nat. 152, 485– 494 (1998).

  8. 8

    Schwartz, M. W. Choosing the appropriate scale of reserves for conservation. Annu. Rev. Ecol. Syst. 30, 83–108 (1999).

  9. 9

    Waide, R. B. et al. The relationship between productivity and species richness. Annu. Rev. Ecol. Syst. 30, 257– 300 (1999).

  10. 10

    Matson, P. A., Parton, W. J., Power, A. G. & Swift, M. J. Agricultural intensification and ecosystem properties. Science 277, 504–508 ( 1997).

  11. 11

    Tilman, D. The greening of the green revolution. Nature 396, 211–212 (1998).

  12. 12

    International Rice Research Institute. IRRI Rice Facts (International Rice Research Institute, Manila, 1997).

  13. 13

    Baker, B., Zambryski, P., Staskawicz & Dinesh-Kumar, S. P. Signaling in plant-microbe interactions. Science 276, 726–733 (1997).

  14. 14

    Staskawicz, B. J., Ausubel, F. M., Baker, B. J., Ellis, J. G. & Jones, J. D. G. Molecular genetics of plant disease resistance. Science 268, 661– 667 (1995).

  15. 15

    Ou, S. H. Pathogenicity and host plant resistance in rice blast disease. Annu. Rev. Phytopathol. 18, 167–187 (1980).

  16. 16

    Bonman, J. M., Khush, G. S. & Nelson, R. J. Breeding rice for resistance to pests. Annu. Rev. Phytopathol. 30, 507–528 (1992).

  17. 17

    Kiyosawa, S. Genetics and epidemiological modeling of breakdown of plant disease resistance. Annu. Rev. Phytopathol. 20, 93– 117 (1982).

  18. 18

    Boudreau, M. A. & Mundt, C. C. in Environmentally Safe Approaches to Disease Control (eds Rechcigl, J. & Rechcigl, N.) 33–62 (CRC, Boca Raton, 1997 ).

  19. 19

    Chin, K. M. & Wolfe, M. S. Selection on Erysiphe graminis in pure and mixed stands of barley. Plant Pathol. 33, 89–100 (1984).

  20. 20

    Calonnec, A., Goyeau, H. & de Vallavieille-Pope, C. Effects of induced resistance on infection efficiency and sporulation of Puccinia striiformis on seedlings in varietal mixtures and on field epidemics in pure stands. Eur. J. Plant Pathol. 102, 733–741 (1996).

  21. 21

    George, M. L., Nelson, R. J., Zeigler, R. S. & Leung, H. Rapid population analysis of Magnaporthe grisea by using rep-PCR and endogenous repetitive DNA sequences. Phytopathology 88, 223–229 (1998).

  22. 22

    Francis, C. A. in Multiple Cropping Systems (ed. Francis, C. A.) 1– 19 (MacMillan, New York, 1986).

  23. 23

    Mundt, C. C. in Plant Disease Epidemiology (eds Leonard, K. J. & Fry, W. E.) 150–181 (McGraw-Hill, 1989).

  24. 24

    Mundt, C. C & Browning, J. A. in The Cereal Rusts Vol. 2 (eds Roelfs, A. P. & Bushnell, W. R.) 527– 560 (Academic, Orlando, 1985).

  25. 25

    Browning, J. A. & Frey, K. J. in Strategies for the Control of Cereal Disease (eds Jenkyn, J. F. & Plumb, R. T.) 37–46 (Blackwell, Oxford, 1981).

  26. 26

    Wolfe, M. S. in Barley Genetics VI (ed. Munck, L.) 1055–1067 (Munksgaard, Copenhagen, 1992).

  27. 27

    Mann, C. Reseeding the Green Revolution. Science 277, 1038–1042 (1997).

  28. 28

    Schmidt, R. A. in Plant Disease: An Advanced Treatise (eds Horsfall, J. G & Cowling, E. B.) 287–315 (Academic, New York, 1978).

  29. 29

    The State Standard of the People's Republic of China, No. GB/T 15790-1995. 1–13 (China Standard Press, Beijing, 1996).

Download references


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.

Author information

Correspondence to Christopher C. Mundt.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

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

Download citation

Further reading


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.