Plagues, Pestilences and Diseases
Mutant fungus strains attack global wheat crops
* From: AFP
* May 27, 2010 4:27AM
SCIENTISTS have identified four new strains of a wheat-killing fungus
that could endanger the global food supply.
The mutant strains of the fungus, called Ug99, originated in Africa but
are likely to spread into Asia and beyond, said the Borlaug Global Rust
Initiative (BGRI), a US-based advocacy group focusing on wheat
"The new mutations - identified last year in South Africa - will make
wheat crops more vulnerable as pathogens now will find new wind
trajectories for migration," BGRI said in a statement announcing its
The study identifying the mutations was done at the University of the
Free State, South Africa, and is to be presented at the Eighth
International Wheat Conference being held in the Russian city of Saint
Petersburg next week.
Ug99, a variant of the deadly wheat affliction commonly known as stem
rust, is a reddish-brown, wind-borne fungus that causes plants to fall
over and can wipe out an entire harvest.
It emerged in East Africa a decade ago and has since spread as far as
Yemen and Iran, leading scientists to scramble to develop new,
Ug99-resistant breeds of wheat, BGRI said.
The new strains of the fungus are a "grave challenge", David Hodson, a
wheat expert at the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United
Nations, was quoted as saying in the statement.
Scientists cited by BGRI said the fungus posed a serious risk to the
densely populated and impoverished countries of South Asia, and in the
longer term could reach Australia and North America.
Ug99 "threatens to spread into other wheat-producing regions of Africa
and Asia, and potentially, the entire world," said Arun Kumar Joshi, a
scientist with the Mexico-based International Maize and Wheat
"The threat is particularly acute in South Asia, which produces 20 per
cent of world wheat for a population of 1.4 billion people," Joshi
Wheat accounts for 30 per cent of global grain production and 20 per
cent of the food calories that the world's population consumes every
day, according to data provided by BGRI, which is based at Cornell