Killer Wheat Fungus Headed for US: World Hunger Feared

June 14, 2009

(ChattahBox)—An ancient fungus, called stem rust that has been plaguing wheat crops since biblical times is now once again, devastating wheat crops across the bread baskets of Africa, Iran and possibly Pakistan and is on its way to Asia much earlier than predicted. It’s only a matter of time before it infects U.S. wheat.

The new stem rust variant, called Ug99 was first detected in Uganda in 1999 and has the potential to wipe out nearly 80 percent of the world’s wheat crop, causing worldwide hunger.

Skyrocketing food prices, food shortages, worldwide hunger and famine await us, unless scientists can beat the clock and come up with a disease resistant wheat strain before it’s too late. Unfortunately, the world is just waking up to the threat.

Developing new wheat varieties that resist Ug99 can take up to five years. Scientists in Syria, China and the United States are now furiously working to combat this killer fungus. Fungicides would provide a short-term solution, but what is ultimately needed are disease resistant varieties of wheat containing several resistant genes.

Scientists thought they would have had more time to produce the necessary resistant wheat genes, but a cyclone that hit the Arabian Peninsula in 2007 changed the direction of the prevailing winds, depositing the fungus spores in Iran a year earlier.

The terrain in Iran presents ideal conditions for the fungus to multiply, as Iran is covered with barberry bushes, which the fungus uses to sexually produce new resistant stem rust strains.

Scientists call the spread of Ug99 a ticking time bomb, which could explode in North America at any moment. Ug99 is readying to enter the breadbaskets of northern India and Pakistan, and from there, it’s headed to Russia, China and North America.

But since the spores are carried by the wind, the fungus could become attached to a person’s clothing or cargo and hitch a ride in an airplane to the United States, at any time.

If the Ug99 and its variants reaches the U.S. sooner than expected, $10 billion worth of wheat would be destroyed.

Scientists warn a worldwide famine and a catastrophic humanitarian crisis, resulting from Ug99, is only a matter of time.



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