Chromosome engineering is a useful strategy for transfer of alien genes from wild relatives into modern crops. However, this strategy has not been extensively used for alien gene introgression in most crops due to low efficiency of conventional cytogenetic techniques. Here, we report an improved scheme of chromosome engineering for efficient elimination of a large amount of goatgrass (Aegilops speltoides) chromatin surrounding Sr39, a gene that provides resistance to multiple stem rust races, including Ug99 (TTKSK) in wheat. The wheat ph1b mutation, which promotes meiotic pairing between homoeologous chromosomes, was employed to induce recombination between wheat chromosome 2B and goatgrass 2S chromatin using a backcross scheme favorable for inducing and detecting the homoeologous recombinants with small goatgrass chromosome segments. Forty recombinants with Sr39 with reduced surrounding goatgrass chromatin were quickly identified from 1048 backcross progenies through disease screening and molecular marker analysis. Four of the recombinants carrying Sr39 with a minimal amount of goatgrass chromatin (2.87–9.15% of the translocated chromosomes) were verified using genomic in situ hybridization. Approximately 97% of the goatgrass chromatin was eliminated in one of the recombinants, in which a tiny goatgrass chromosome segment containing Sr39 was retained in the wheat genome. Localization of the goatgrass chromatin in the recombinants led to rapid development of three molecular markers tightly linked to Sr39. The new wheat lines and markers provide useful resources for the ongoing global effort to combat Ug99. This study has demonstrated great potential of chromosome engineering in genome manipulation for plant improvement
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