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Egypt Plants New Wheat Strains To Fight Fungus

February 27, 2010

Two articles on a growing problem with wheat production in the Middle East.  The second article is very detailed on this issue:  it’s migration and methods of approach to mitigate the problem.

Egypt Plants New Wheat Strains To Fight Fungus.  

CAIRO – Egypt, the world’s top wheat importer, is introducing new wheat varieties resistant to a mutant form of stem rust, an airborne fungus with the ability to annihilate entire crops.

“We have already started using these seeds and 40 tonnes are now being planted in the Nile Delta,” Ayman Abouhadid, president of the country’s Agricultural Research Center, told Reuters in an interview.

The fungus, which has plagued wheat since biblical times, was largely controlled in the 1950s when scientists passed out seeds with a gene to block the disease.

But a destructive new strain reappeared in Uganda in the late 1990s, once more posing a potentially serious threat to 80 percent of the world’s wheat supplies.

Full Article at: http://planetark.org/enviro-news/item/56126

 

Red Menace: Stop the Ug99 Fungus Before Its Spores Bring Starvation

<snip>

To the women at the tap, faces scrunched in puzzlement, the call-and-response sounds like gibberish — and to most of the world, it is. But to the jumpsuited strangers in East Africa — a group of elite plant pathologists — these codenames and numbers are a lingua franca, describing just how badly a crop has been ravaged by disease. These specialists have come to Njoro on this autumn afternoon to study a scourge that is destroying acres of Kenyan fields. The enemy is Ug99, a fungus that causes stem rust, a calamitous disease of wheat. Its spores alight on a wheat leaf, then work their way into the flesh of the plant and hijack its metabolism, siphoning off nutrients that would otherwise fatten the grains. The pathogen makes its presence known to humans through crimson pustules on the plant’s stems and leaves. When those pustules burst, millions of spores flare out in search of fresh hosts. The ravaged plant then withers and dies, its grains shriveled into useless pebbles…..

Stem rust is the polio of agriculture, a plague that was brought under control nearly half a century ago as part of the celebrated Green Revolution. After years of trial and error, scientists managed to breed wheat that contained genes capable of repelling the assaults of Puccinia graminis, the formal name of the fungus.

But now it’s clear: The triumph didn’t last. While languishing in the Ugandan highlands, a small population of P. graminis evolved the means to overcome mankind’s most ingenious genetic defenses. This distinct new race of P. graminis, dubbed Ug99 after its country of origin (Uganda) and year of christening (1999), is storming east, working its way through Africa and the Middle East and threatening India and China. More than a billion lives are at stake. “It’s an absolute game-changer,” says Brian Steffenson, a cereal-disease expert at the University of Minnesota who travels to Njoro regularly to observe the enemy in the wild. “The pathogen takes out pretty much everything we have.”

Indeed, 90 percent of the world’s wheat has little or no protection against the Ug99 race of P. graminis. If nothing is done to slow the pathogen, famines could soon become the norm — from the Red Sea to the Mongolian steppe — as Ug99 annihilates a crop that provides a third of our calories. China and India, the world’s biggest wheat consumers, will once again face the threat of mass starvation, especially among their rural poor. The situation will be particularly grim in Pakistan and Afghanistan, two nations that rely heavily on wheat for sustenance and are in no position to bear added woe. Their fragile governments may not be able to survive the onslaught of Ug99 and its attendant turmoil……

Full Article at: http://www.wired.com/magazine/2010/02/ff_ug99_fungus

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