University of the Philippines Los Baños
Thursday, 31 August 2017 16:07

Science Journal publishes collaborative work of UPLB’s Dr. Cumagun

Dr Cumagun


Dr. Christian Joseph R. Cumagun, award-winning scientist and leading plant pathologist, has added another feather in his cap – a publication in Science, one of the world’s most prestigious and influential scientific journals.

Dr. Cumagun’s article with 14 other international scientists entitled “Evolution of the wheat blast fungus through functional losses in a host specificity determinant” merited a publication in the 6,346th issue of the 137 year-old journal. The said issue was released on July 7, 2017.

“I feel honored to be part of the co-authorship of the paper in Science,” Dr. Cumagun said. “A paper in Science or Nature (another highly esteemed journal) is every scientist’s dream.”

Dr. Cumagun and his colleagues uncovered the cause of the widespread emergence of wheat blast fungus in wheat plantations, first in Brazil and recently, in Bangladesh. The disease is caused by the fungus, Pyricularia oryzae.

They found out that the loss of interaction between the avirulence gene of the fungus called PWT3 and the resistance genes of the host plant called Rwt3 allowed the disease to spread. Hence, they recommended that wheat cultivars that carry Rwt3 and another resistance gene called Rwt4 should be planted to prevent the further spread of the disease in one of the world’s most important crops.

The published paper is Dr. Cumagun’s output during his post-doctoral research fellowship at the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science in Kobe University from 2009 to 2011. Using his expertise in fungal genetics, plant pathology, and molecular biology, he was able to map the location of PWT3 on chromosome 6 in the genetic map of Pyricularia oryzae. “I also performed several infection assays in the greenhouse and generated the pedigree of representative cultures derived from backcrosses of oat isolate Br58 to wheat isolate Br48,” Dr. Cumagun added.

Dr. Cumagun, Professor 12 and UP Scientist III at the College of Agriculture and Food Science, follows the footsteps of his master’s thesis adviser, retired UPLB professor and fellow plant pathologist Dr. Lina L. Ilag, in achieving the said feat in 1968. Other Filipinos who made it to the prestigious journal are National Scientists Edgardo D. Gomez and Lourdes J. Cruz.

Dr. Cumagun, who is now in Germany, has recently embarked on another research fellowship at the University of Göttingen, this time the Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellowship, considered as one of Germany’s most prestigious science fellowships.  He will be working on different projects on Fusarium and Aspergillus toxins from August 2017 to January 2019. He is the third UPLB scientist to be accepted in the fellowship’s 64-year history. (Mark Jayson E. Gloria)