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Biotech Science

Newly Discovered Fungus Threatens World Wheat Crop 236

Posted by Zonk
from the swarm-of-hungry-hungry-hippos-not-helping dept.
RickRussellTX writes "The UN reports that a variety of the rust fungus originally detected in Uganda in 1999 has already spread as far north as Iran, threatening wheat production across its range. The fungus infects wheat stems and affects 80% of wheat varieties, putting crops at risk and threatening the food sources for billions of people across central Asia. Although scientists believe they can develop resistant hybrids, the fungus is moving much faster than anticipated and resistant hybrids may still be years away. Meanwhile, national governments in the path of the fungus are telling folks that there is nothing to worry about."
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Newly Discovered Fungus Threatens World Wheat Crop

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  • This is bad (Score:5, Informative)

    by whitehatlurker (867714) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @10:41PM (#22770040) Journal
    The USDA reports [usda.gov] that the virus can infect wheat which has the (previously) most effective rust resistant genes.

    Work is being done [newscientist.com] to protect crops, but Norman Borlaug [wikipedia.org] says "This thing has immense potential for social and human destruction." Oh yes, and you can say goodbye to cheap white bread [coldclimategardening.com].

  • by Whiney Mac Fanboy (963289) * <whineymacfanboy@gmail.com> on Sunday March 16, 2008 @10:47PM (#22770066) Homepage Journal
    What's the definition of "central Asia"? Is there really "billions of people" there?

    A few seconds research would've give you an answer [wikipedia.org] (80 million for the lazy).

    I think however that the range of the fungus is far wider than just central Asia. Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia (along with the countries they supply grain to] could be affected, along with the rest of the world if the fungus continues to spread.

    New scientist has a better article [newscientist.com] (from almost a year ago).
  • by r00t (33219) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @11:04PM (#22770136) Journal
    Eat your vegetables. Seriously.
  • by owenc67202 (901889) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @11:05PM (#22770140)
    > Sound to me like U.S. wheat farmers are going to clean up this year. Actually most US wheat farmers sold their crop for this year long ago. That's one of the reasons wheat prices are already through the roof. Most of the sales out there are people fighting over the small amount of wheat that is still available. Farmers saw $7 wheat prices and sold as fast as they could. Never did they imagine that wheat would go over $10.
  • by jdb2 (800046) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @11:14PM (#22770186) Journal
    I have been waiting for this day since I was diagnosed with C(o)eliac Disease [wikipedia.org]
    Now everyone has to use rice flour! ;) (well, it feeds half the world anyway)

    jdb2
  • Immunity is fiction. (Score:5, Informative)

    by jd (1658) <imipak@nOSPam.yahoo.com> on Monday March 17, 2008 @12:03AM (#22770408) Homepage Journal
    There is no resistance to it. Not a single person has survived exposure to the virus. The few supposed exceptions turned out not to be. The body cannot adjust to it. HIV is a polymorphic virus that mutates almost every replication. There is no evolutionary pressure to be resistant to it, because there is no survival rate. Same as there's no build-up in antibiotic-resistant bacteria when medication is taken correctly and appropriately. Resistant people in Africa or anywhere else is a nice fiction but should be left in Neuromancer.
  • Re:Strains (Score:3, Informative)

    by Fireshadow (632041) <matthewNO@SPAMfireshadow.net> on Monday March 17, 2008 @12:04AM (#22770416) Journal
    This is real scary. According to National Association of Wheat Growers, "The United State would also be highly vulnerable to Ug99, with recent assessments suggesting that more than 50% of hard winter wheat and more than 75% of hard spring wheat acreage are currently planted to varieties that are susceptible to Ug99". (I'd post the reference link, but the filter complained about the length!)
    According to this page [suite101.com], world wheat reserves are the lowest in 25 years. I would not trust trying to buy one's food on the global market anytime soon.
  • Re:Strains (Score:5, Informative)

    by MAXOMENOS (9802) <maxomai&gmail,com> on Monday March 17, 2008 @12:17AM (#22770462) Homepage
    My understanding is that the USDA has a plan to combat this fungus. This involves planting highly resistant wheat in the south during the winter while the northern regions get too cold for the fungus to survive. With no place to take hold in the south and a death zone in the north, the fungus should go away. (source [sciencedaily.com])
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 17, 2008 @03:30AM (#22771052)
    "There is no evolutionary pressure to be resistant to it, because there is no survival rate."

    That doesn't make any sense. The selection inherent in biological evolution doesn't hinge on mere survival. Evolution actually hinges on reproduction and passing genes on to the next generation. Even if there is only partial resistance or temporary resistance anyone with such genes will, theoretically, have a higher liklihood of survival to yield offspring, and those genes will therefore become more common in the population over time. And there is evidence for such genes [sciencedirect.com], although their origin might not have anything directly to do with HIV.

    Humans have been dealing with polymorphic viruses of a variety of types for as long as they have been around. Resistance is simply rare, and HIV is an especially variable pathogen. It's not like there is some magical exception when it comes to HIV that makes immunity impossible to develop or to become more common in a population (over a long period of time).

    "Same as there's no build-up in antibiotic-resistant bacteria when medication is taken correctly and appropriately."

    That's not exactly true. They often still evolve resistance (which is why it is a VERY bad idea to knock off the antibiotics early -- you'll let the population with those mutations re-expand), but as long as the population gets knocked down sufficiently the body takes care of the rest, including the few anti-biotic resistant ones that evolve, and often times the variations that yield resistance make those bacteria more susceptable to other attacks anyway. As is the often the case, the mutations that confer resistance may not be optimal in other situations.

    Another example of this for humans is the gene for sickle-cell anemia which confers partial resistance to malaria, but has the side-effect of yielding the sickle-cell anemia disease when the individual has both genes. In non-malaria areas the gene is a disadvantage and gets selected out.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 17, 2008 @05:44AM (#22771624)
    They BUTCHERED their citizens, not starved them. Literally. Do a Google before responding. There is a big difference. Next, you will be saying that these tyrants shot their citizens into space and asphyxiated them.

    Probably the closest that there is, to a leader starving their citizens of the last 50 years is Mugabe of zimbabwe or even KIM Jong Il of North Korea. But both is due to incompetence, not due to an actual policy of starvation. You need to read up on history, or even just listen to more than Faux news. Thank God, others are brighter than you. Let me guess. "You was learned in Texas and are a republican"?
  • Re:Amaranth (Score:3, Informative)

    by Frozen Void (831218) on Monday March 17, 2008 @08:56AM (#22772770)
    I would choose quinoa instead.
  • by odoketa (1040340) on Monday March 17, 2008 @09:38AM (#22773114) Homepage
    The book was:

    The Botanist and the Vintner: How Wine Was Saved for the World

    It was pretty good, a sort of murder mystery for grapevines. Lots of people in denial, until it's too late. A few scientists trying to figure out what's going on, and then formulate a response.

    It didn't change my life, but I'm a pretty big wine geek, and it was interesting from that perspective. Also from the perspective of the political situation in France in the latter half of the 1800s.
  • by Deagol (323173) on Monday March 17, 2008 @11:34AM (#22774282) Homepage
    The wheat (and other non corn farmers) are going to clean up for the next few years, until market forces tilt the scales back to a more normal situation.

    Firstly, the US national "wheat stores" (the supply of wheat the country has on-hand at any given time) is at its near lowest point since records began. I'll be damned if I can find the official source now, but I actually browsed a quarterly report from whatever organization that tracks this (USDA perhaps) and read this a few months back. This food storage site [survivalacres.com] (and blog) has been aware of the trends for a while, as his prices have gone through the roof.

    On the anecdotal side: 1) Having livestock, I've witnessed the prices of non-corn 50-pound feeds nearly double in the past 6 months -- all were about $7/bag, and last time I bought them, wheat, oats, & barley were $15. Corn even went from about $7 to $9 over the same time; 2) The prices of food-grade wheat have gone from about $10/bag to over $20 (witnessed both on the Wheat Montanna [wheatmontanna.com] site and a local Macey's store, which sells 50-pound bags of Walton Feed [waltonfeed.com] wheat; 3) While recently at a wine store, I witnessed a farmer talking about converting over to hops, because hop crops are being converted to corn for the ethanol subsidies.

    This, of course, is also a general trend of the prices of food (and everything else) going up to reflect higher fuel costs. We normally buy whole wheat and grind it fresh -- it's much healthier, and is normally much chepaer. Howeverm due to large mills buying advanced contracts at a set price, the prices of wheat flour haven't caught up with that of whole wheat yet. Right now, it's cheaper to buy 2 25-pound bags of flour than it is to buy a 50-pound sack of whole wheat berries, which is the first time I've witnessed this imbalance in the 10 years my family has been buying whole wheat. (These are typical retail prices -- price club prices may be different.)

    Oh, and I found this post [reliefmine.com] while trying to find my link to US wheat stores numbers. Not proof positive of a coming "crisis", but when the the topic of wheat prices starts popping up on mainstream sites, it's worth taking note of. It's quite conceivable that this year we will see a doubling of prices for all wheat-based staples (flour, bread, pasta, etc.) and products which use wheat products will follow shortly thereafter. Even those of us who don't buy processed, pre-made stuff will be feeling the pinch. I really feel sorry for those who buy Eggo Waffles and frozen garlic bread in a box.

  • by NotZed (19455) on Monday March 17, 2008 @05:09PM (#22778014)

    It means a region suited to and used for growing wheat. Based mainly on geography and climate. Flat open areas with little rainfall in summer.

    Often, but not always associated with sheep. As in 'wheat and sheep country'. Both do well in similar climates.

    It's really quite simple, and a simple google search shows both in common usage, and even that they aren't just colloquial Australian phrases either.

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