New York Times Dot Earth Update on Wheat Stem Rust Menace


New York Times science reporter Andrew Revkin reports on the findings of an urgent meeting of crop scientists in Mexico on how to handle the spreading menace of a new wheat fungal disease.

wheat rust

The fungus Ug99 is spreading in Africa and Iran now and could go worldwide soon. As Revkin reports:

…scientists at the meeting, held at a branch of the nonprofit  International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, estimated that 90 percent of the wheat varieties planted by farmers around the world lack resistance to the rust variant, called Ug99 after its discovery in Uganda in 1999. But the scientists said that new wheat varieties (small pdf), developed as a result of an aggressive international breeding project, are not only resistant to the fungus but produce better yields than many conventional wheat types. The effort to develop and test the new strains has involved shuttling them from research centers in Syria and Mexico back to test plots in Africa, according to the organizers of the conference.

As Revkin explains, the researchers have identified genes that confer resistance to the fungus on wheat and are engaged in a crash program using conventional crop breeding methods to create new rust-resistant varieties. As I reported earlier the researchers are constrained to use conventional methods because of opposition by activists to using faster modern biotech gene-transfer techniques. 

Visit Revkin's Dot Earth blog here for more details. 

NEXT: Twelve Angry Tweeps

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  1. Will this change the texture or taste of my grainola?

  2. I can’t help but think this was an engineered disaster. Most likely released by mistake.

  3. I can’t help but think this was an engineered disaster. Most likely released by mistake.

    Maybe it was on purpose, like HIV?

  4. This will be a boon to the gluten-intolerant. Down with the tyranny of endosperm protein! Who needs elasticity in their dough, after all.

  5. Yo, fuck wheat rust.

    Rye ergot, on the other hand, is a grain fungus i think we can all get behind.

  6. ClownsWillEatMe,

    I can’t help but think this was an engineered disaster

    That’s probably true, after all the Great Irish Potato Famine of 1848 was caused by a genetic engineering mishap by one Tom Finnigan of Whatlin Street, a gentle Irishman with a mighty brogue..

    Meanwhile, back in this reality, new pathogens evolve constantly no matter what creationist will try to tell you. Agricultural history is replete with instances of infections that arise and wipe out entire crops. Most people simply never study agricultural history so they don’t know just how common such plant plagues are.

    The problem we have in the modern world is that pathogens piggyback on modern transportation. Someone ships a used tractor from Africa to Iran and bam, they get infected.

    We need genetic engineering technology to offset the speed at which nearly evolved pathogens can spread.

  7. Is this wheat rust as delicious as corn smut?

  8. Preventing the use of genetic engineering to save wheat crops is a prime example of the tendency of “environmentalist” to put the lives of living people here in now in danger in order to fend off a hypothetical danger in the undetermined future. You see the same behavior in Global Warming advocates also opposing nuclear power. Supposedly, we face an unprecedented environmental cataclysm but we can’t use the one technology which we have on had which would fix the problem because we might hypothetically have a relatively minor safety problem with it sometime in the future.

    There willingly to sacrifice real lives for hypothetical ones indicates to me that they are just using drummed up fear of technology for short-term political power and personal profit.

    I say that anyone who opposes the use of genetic engineering to address this problems has to restrict the diet of their own family to that of people affected by plague. That would change their tune in a hurry.

  9. Is this wheat rust as delicious as corn smut?

    Warty has a corn fetish.

  10. Watch out for your corn hole, Epi.

  11. Epi, at least I don’t have a romantic abnormality, one so unbelievable that it must be hidden from the public at all cost, like you do.

  12. I am the great Cornholio, Xeones. I need TP for my bunghole.

  13. one so unbelievable that it must be hidden from the public at all cost

    Well then how do you know about it? Wait, Warty, are you that transsexual hooker I frequent? The one with the fake leg?

  14. The leg’s not all that’s fake.

  15. I know about the glass eye, Warty Duncan.

  16. Clearly another plot of Big Corn’s.

  17. And, from the Things You Won’t Read in Reason For Some Incredibly Unknown Reason, here are some links regarding Monsanto, seeds, and GMO foods.

  18. Where is that NeuMexico guy, or is OLS filling in for him?

  19. Is Lonewacko against GMO, too? Huh.

    Shut the fuck up, Lonewacko.

  20. Does anyone understand how Baxter International could have “accidentally” contaminated it’s flu vaccines? oh sure it makes sense if they accidentally contaminated it with some dirt or impure water…but no they contaminated it with the live AVIAN FLU virus and shipped it out to 18 countries for consumption.

  21. Oddly enough I didn’t base that sneaking suspicion on nothing. Stem rusts were weaponized quite some time ago. The question is did a the recent strain manage to get loose or evolve from a weaponized strain.

    “Table B displays the BW agents that were developed in the US program. Despite research, no offensive capability was developed for anti-animal BW agents. At the time that the decision was taken to end the US program in 1969, stocks of anti-personnel and anti-crop agents were the only ones that existed, and there were no munitions filled with anti-crop agents.[2] Between 1951 and 1969, the US reportedly produced and stockpiled 36,000 kilograms of wheat stem rust, and between 1951 and 1957, an additional quantity of stem rust of rye.[3] Only 900 kilograms of rice blast were produced and stored by 1968. ”

    There’s a footnote to a 1981 study for the quote. The question of whether they tampered with stem rusts is not in question. All I question is if the recent emergence of a more virulent and destructive strain is related to that tampering. Far from crazy to consider that possibility.

  22. Gave: Gives a new meaning to the term “flu shot.”

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