Nav: Home

Dangerous wheat disease jumps Red Sea

January 16, 2007

EL BATAN, Mexico and ALEPPO, Syria, -- 16 Jan 2007 -- A new form of stem rust, a virulent wheat disease, has jumped from eastern Africa and is now infecting wheat in Yemen in the Arabian Peninsula.

Researchers with the Global Rust Initiative (GRI) and the Agricultural Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA-ARS) have confirmed conclusively the existence of the disease in Yemen. There is also evidence that the disease has spread into Sudan but more tests are needed to confirm the finding. Until this discovery, this new strain of stem rust, known as Ug99, had only been seen in Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia.

The last major epidemic of stem rust occurred in North America in the early 1950s, when a strain of stem rust destroyed as much as 40 percent of the continent's spring wheat crop. Out of this crisis came a new form of international cooperation among wheat scientists worldwide, spearheaded by Nobel laureate wheat scientist Norman Borlaug. This international alliance of scientists led to the development of wheat varieties which resisted the onslaught of stem rust for more than four decades. But in 1999, a new strain of stem rust was discovered in Uganda and Kenya capable of destroying most previously disease-resistant wheat varieties.

A year and a half ago geographic information systems specialists working at CIMMYT plotted the probable trajectory of the fungus, whose spores can travel large distances on the wind. The wind models predicted that if the fungus crossed from eastern Africa to the Arabian Peninsula it could easily spread to the vast wheat-growing areas of North Africa, the Middle East, Pakistan and India.

There is precedence for this, from a virulent strain of another wheat disease, called yellow rust, which emerged in eastern Africa in the late 1980s. Once it appeared in Yemen, it took just four years to reach wheat fields of South Asia. On its way, this new strain of yellow rust caused major wheat losses in Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, exceeding USD 1 billion in value. There is every reason to believe the new Ug99 strain of stem rust represents a much greater risk to world wheat production. Annual losses of as much as USD 3 billion in Africa, the Middle East and south Asia alone are possible.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), countries in the predicted, immediate pathway grow more than 65 million hectares of wheat, accounting for 25 percent of the global wheat harvest. "If we don't control this stem rust threat," says ME Tusneem, Chairman of Pakistan's Agriculture Research Council, "it will have a major impact on food security, especially since global wheat stocks are at a historic low."

Experiments conducted over the past two years by international researchers in the Global Rust Initiative in Kenya and Ethiopia demonstrate clearly that most of the world's wheat varieties are susceptible to the new Ug99 strain of stem rust. "This is a problem that goes far beyond wheat production in developing countries," warns Borlaug. "The rust pathogen needs no passport to cross national boundaries. Sooner or later Ug99 will be found throughout the world, including in North America, Europe, Australia and South America."

GRI scientists have already identified promising experimental wheat materials with resistance to Ug99. But from the first breeding trials to growing new, rust-resistant varieties in farmers' fields on millions of hectares takes time and a massive effort.

"If we fail to contain Ug99 it could bring calamity to tens of millions of farmers and hundreds of millions of consumers," says Nobel Laureate Borlaug. "We know what to do and how to do it. All we need are the financial resources, scientific cooperation and political will to contain this threat to world food security."
-end-
For more information or to arrange interviews please contact:

r.w.ward@cgiar.org
Suren Varma
Head, Communications
ICARDA
Tel: 963 21 221-3433
Cell: 963 94 517251
s.varma@cgiar.org

Sean Adams
Office of Communications
USDA-ARS
Tel: 1 301 504-1622
Sean.Adams@ars.usda.gov

International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT)

Related Agriculture Articles:

Urban agriculture only provides small environmental benefits in northeastern US
'Buy local' sounds like a great environmental slogan, epitomized for city dwellers by urban agriculture.
Scientists say agriculture is good for honey bees
Scientists with the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture evaluated the impacts of row-crop agriculture, including the traditional use of pesticides, on honey bee health.
Widely accepted vision for agriculture may be inaccurate, misleading
'Food production must double by 2050 to feed the world's growing population.' This truism has been repeated so often in recent years that it has become widely accepted among academics, policymakers and farmers, but now researchers are challenging this assertion and suggesting a new vision for the future of agriculture.
New effort to promote careers in agriculture, natural resources
A new round of grants from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture is designed to promote careers in agriculture and natural resource management, and educators with the University of Tennessee Departments of Plant Sciences and Agricultural Leadership, Education, and Communications (ALEC) are among the grant recipients.
Corn yield modeling towards sustainable agriculture
Researchers use a 16 year field-experiment dataset to show the ability of a model to fine-tune optimal nitrogen fertilizer rates, and identify five ways it can inform nitrogen management guidelines.
Small-scale agriculture threatens the rainforest
An extensive study led by a researcher at Lund University in Sweden has mapped the effects of small farmers on the rain forests of Southeast Asia for the first time.
Space agriculture topic of symposium
New frontiers of soil and plant sciences may grow crops in space.
Measure of age in soil nitrogen could help precision agriculture
What's good for crops is not always good for the environment.
Invasive species could cause billions in damages to agriculture
Invasive insects and pathogens could be a multi-billion- dollar threat to global agriculture and developing countries may be the biggest target, according to a team of international researchers.
Males were saved by agriculture
The emergence of agriculture is suggested to have driven extensive human population growth.

Related Agriculture Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Digital Manipulation
Technology has reshaped our lives in amazing ways. But at what cost? This hour, TED speakers reveal how what we see, read, believe — even how we vote — can be manipulated by the technology we use. Guests include journalist Carole Cadwalladr, consumer advocate Finn Myrstad, writer and marketing professor Scott Galloway, behavioral designer Nir Eyal, and computer graphics researcher Doug Roble.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#529 Do You Really Want to Find Out Who's Your Daddy?
At least some of you by now have probably spit into a tube and mailed it off to find out who your closest relatives are, where you might be from, and what terrible diseases might await you. But what exactly did you find out? And what did you give away? In this live panel at Awesome Con we bring in science writer Tina Saey to talk about all her DNA testing, and bioethicist Debra Mathews, to determine whether Tina should have done it at all. Related links: What FamilyTreeDNA sharing genetic data with police means for you Crime solvers embraced...