Saturday, March 15, 2008

Wheat super disease could kill us all

A headline that all dismal scientists should appreciate.

The New Scientist reports on the emergence of a super-blight called "Ug99" - a fine name for a fungus if ever I heard one. The economics comes is from Ug99's ability to change to attack plants that had previously been genetically modified tp protect against it. That is one clever fungus.

The race is on to find a solution.

Billions at risk from wheat super-blight[New Scientist]

"This thing has immense potential for social and human destruction." Startling words - but spoken by the father of the Green Revolution, Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug, they are not easily dismissed.


he disease is Ug99, a virulent strain of black stem rust fungus (Puccinia graminis), discovered in Uganda in 1999. Since the Green Revolution, farmers everywhere have grown wheat varieties that resist stem rust, but Ug99 has evolved to take advantage of those varieties, and almost no wheat crops anywhere are resistant to it.

The strain has spread slowly across east Africa, but in January this year spores blew across to Yemen, and north into Sudan (see Map). Scientists who have tracked similar airborne spores in this part of the world say it will now blow into Egypt, Turkey and the Middle East, and on to India, lands where a billion people depend on wheat.

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