Fusarium head blight (FHB) of wheat, caused by Fusarium graminearum and other Fusarium species, is a major disease problem for wheat production worldwide. To combat this problem, large-scale breeding efforts have been established. Although progress has been made through standard breeding approaches, the level of resistance attained is insufficient to withstand epidemic conditions. Genetic engineering provides an alternative approach to enhance the level of resistance. Many defense response genes are induced in wheat during F. graminearum infection and may play a role in reducing FHB. The objectives of this study were (1) to develop transgenic wheat overexpressing the defense response genes alpha-1-purothionin, thaumatin-like protein 1 (tlp-1), and beta-1,3-glucanase; and (2) to test the resultant transgenic wheat lines against F. graminearum infection under greenhouse and field conditions. Using the wheat cultivar Bobwhite, we developed one, two, and four lines carrying the alpha-1-purothionin, tlp-1, and beta-1,3-glucanase transgenes, respectively, that had statistically significant reductions in FHB severity in greenhouse evaluations. We tested these seven transgenic lines under field conditions for percent FHB disease severity, deoxynivalenol (DON) mycotoxin accumulation, and percent visually scabby kernels (VSK). Six of the seven lines differed from the nontransgenic parental Bobwhite line for at least one of the disease traits. A beta-1,3-glucanase transgenic line had enhanced resistance, showing lower FHB severity, DON concentration, and percent VSK compared to Bobwhite. Taken together, the results showed that overexpression of defense response genes in wheat could enhance the FHB resistance in both greenhouse and field conditions.
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