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A 'TIME BOMB' For World Wheat Crop

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Author Topic: A 'TIME BOMB' For World Wheat Crop  (Read 184 times)
Bianca
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« on: June 14, 2009, 05:19:30 pm »










A new strain of stem rust was identified on a wheat farm in Uganda in 1999.

"It didn't draw a lot of attention, frankly," said Marty Carson, research leader at the Cereal Disease Laboratory, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "There's very little wheat grown in Uganda."

East Africa is a natural hot spot for stem rust. Weather conditions allow farmers to grow wheat year-round, so rust spores can always find a susceptible host. Some of the wheat is grown as high as 7,000 feet above sea level, where intense solar radiation helps the fungus mutate.

The highlands are also home to barberry bushes, the only plant on which stem rust is known to reproduce through sexual recombination. That genetic shuffling provides a golden opportunity for the fungus to evolve into a deadly strain.

Within a few years, Ug99 -- named for the country and year it was identified -- had devastated farms in neighboring Kenya, where much of the wheat is grown on large-scale farms that have so far been able to absorb the blow. Then it moved north to Ethiopia, Sudan and Yemen, putting more small farms at risk. Those that can afford it are trying to make do with fungicides, but that's too cumbersome and expensive to be a long-term solution, Ward said.


To make matters worse, the fungus is becoming more virulent as it spreads. Scientists discovered a Ug99 variant in 2006 that can defeat Sr24, a resistance gene that protects Great Plains wheat.

Last year, another variant was found with immunity to Sr36, a gene that safeguards Eastern wheat.

Should those variants make their way to U.S. fields any time soon, scientists would be hard-pressed to protect American wheat crops.
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