Wheat Rust: The Fungal Disease That Threatens To Destroy The World Crop … Has Been ‘Produced By The US Army As Part Of Its Biological Weapons Programme In The 1960s’

Flashback:

The Ug99 fungus: A time bomb for world wheat crop (Los Angeles Times)

Airborne fungus Ug99 threatens global wheat harvest (The Guardian):

“The US army produced wheat rust as part of its biological weapons programme in the 1960s”

UN alert: One-fourth of world’s wheat at risk from new fungus (World Tribune)

Billions at risk from wheat super-blight (New Scientist)


Wheat-rust

Wheat rust: The fungal disease that threatens to destroy the world crop (Independent, April 18, 2014):

Experts in Europe and Africa are racing to develop resistant grain varieties as university researchers predict the likely spread across continents of the air-borne spores of the fungus

Scientists are warning that wheat is facing a serious threat from a fungal disease that could wipe out the world’s crop if not quickly contained. Wheat rust, a devastating disease known as the “polio of agriculture”, has spread from Africa to South and Central Asia, the Middle East and Europe, with calamitous losses for the world’s second most important grain crop, after rice. There is mounting concern at the dangers posed to global food security.

Experts have been aware of the threat since a major epidemic swept across North America’s wheat belt in the 1950s, destroying up to 40 per cent of the crop. Since then, tens of millions of pounds have been invested in developing rust-resistant varieties of the grain. However, an outbreak in Uganda in 1999 was discovered to have been caused by a virulent mutation of the fungus. There has been alarm at the speed at which further mutations have subsequently developed and spread across continents.

Read more

The Ug99 fungus: A time bomb for world wheat crop

Related articles:
Airborne fungus Ug99 threatens global wheat harvest (The Guardian):
“The US army produced wheat rust as part of its biological weapons programme in the 1960s.”
UN alert: One-fourth of world’s wheat at risk from new fungus (World Tribune)
Billions at risk from wheat super-blight (New Scientist)


ug99-wheat-rust-science
Oregon State scientist Mary Verhoeven is among those working to develop wheat varieties resistant to a strain of “stem rust” that a colleague calls “a time bomb.”

The Ug99 fungus, called stem rust, could wipe out more than 80% of the world’s wheat as it spreads from Africa, scientists fear. The race is on to breed resistant plants before it reaches the U.S.

The spores arrived from Kenya on dried, infected leaves ensconced in layers of envelopes.

Working inside a bio-secure greenhouse outfitted with motion detectors and surveillance cameras, government scientists at the Cereal Disease Laboratory in St. Paul, Minn., suspended the fungal spores in a light mineral oil and sprayed them onto thousands of healthy wheat plants. After two weeks, the stalks were covered with deadly reddish blisters characteristic of the scourge known as Ug99.

Nearly all the plants were goners.

Crop scientists fear the Ug99 fungus could wipe out more than 80% of worldwide wheat crops as it spreads from eastern Africa. It has already jumped the Red Sea and traveled as far as Iran. Experts say it is poised to enter the breadbasket of northern India and Pakistan, and the wind will inevitably carry it to Russia, China and even North America — if it doesn’t hitch a ride with people first.

ug99-wheat-rust

“It’s a time bomb,” said Jim Peterson, a professor of wheat breeding and genetics at Oregon State University in Corvallis. “It moves in the air, it can move in clothing on an airplane. We know it’s going to be here. It’s a matter of how long it’s going to take.”

Read more

Airborne fungus Ug99 threatens global wheat harvest

From the article:

“The US army produced wheat rust as part of its biological weapons programme in the 1960s”


New variety of an old crop disease called “stem rust” can infect crops in just a few hours and vast clouds of invisible spores can be carried by the wind for hundreds of miles


New variety of an old crop disease called “stem rust” can infect crops in just a few hours. Photograph: Steve Satushek/Getty images

The world’s leading crop scientists issued a stark warning that a deadly airborne fungus could devastate wheat harvests in poor countries and lead to famines and civil unrest over significant regions of central Asia and Africa.

Ug99 — so called because it was first seen in Uganda in 1999 — is a new variety of an old crop disease called “stem rust”, which has already spread on the wind from Africa to Iran. It is particularly alarming because it can infect crops in just a few hours and vast clouds of invisible spores can be carried by the wind for hundreds of miles.

Scientists meeting in Mexico this week at a summit on Ug99 worry it will continue travelling east and infect major wheat growing centres in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, which produce nearly 15% of the world’s wheat and feed more than a billion of the world’s poorest people. Plant breeders are now racing against time to develop new resistant wheat strains and distribute the seeds around the world.

The fungus was thought to have largely disappeared since the 1960s when original disease-resistant varieties were developed and planted. But Ug99 has evolved to take advantage of those varieties, and it is now believed that 80-90% of all wheat varieties grown in developing countries are susceptible to the new fungus.

Read more

UN alert: One-fourth of world’s wheat at risk from new fungus

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned in March that Iran had detected a new highly pathogenic strain of wheat stem rust called Ug99.

The fungal disease could spread to other wheat producing states in the Near East and western Asia that provide one-quarter of the world’s wheat.

The FAO warned stated east of Iran — Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan to be on high alert.

Scientists and international organizations focused on controlling wheat stem rust have said 90 percent of world wheat lines are susceptible to Ug99. The situation is particularly critical in light of the existing worldwide wheat shortage.

The fungus causes dark orange pustules on stems and leaves of infected plants. The pustules can completely girdle stems, damaging their conducting tissue and preventing grain fill. Yield losses may reach 70 percent, while some fields are totally destroyed. If stem rust arrives early in the growing cycle, losses are higher. Spores released by the fungal pustules are spread by the wind and may travel great distances in storms.

Word of the new wheat disease comes amid global shortages of rice and wheat resulting from typhoon-related flooding in Java, Bangladesh, and India and from agricultural pests and diseases in Vietnam. Last year Australia suffered its second consecutive year of severe drought and a near complete crop failure, heavy rains reduced production in Europe, Argentina suffered heavy frost, and Canada and the U.S. both produced low yields.

Food riots have broken out in Egypt, Haiti and several African states, including Mauritania, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso and Senegal in recent months.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Source: World Tribune

Billions at risk from wheat super-blight – New Scientist

wheat-rust.jpgPossible migration routes of wheat rust Ug99

Possible migration routes of wheat rust Ug99

“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.

An infection is coming, and almost no one has heard about it. This infection isn’t going to give you flu, or TB. In fact, it isn’t interested in you at all. It is after the wheat plants that feed more people than any other single food source on the planet. And because of cutbacks in international research, we aren’t prepared. The famines that were banished by the advent of disease-resistant crops in the Green Revolution of the 1960s could return, Borlaug told New Scientist.

Read more