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Biotech Science

Newly Discovered Fungus Threatens World Wheat Crop 236

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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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 16, 2008 @11:23PM (#22769944)
    Monsanto will be happy to sell them to you, it won't cost much at all, really...
  • by timmarhy ( 659436 ) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @11:26PM (#22769960)
    i'm so sick of being told of what i need to be afraid of. no wonder the world is full of pill popping zombies, i just wish these people would fuck off with their end of the world nonesense.
  • by Jane Q. Public ( 1010737 ) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @11:36PM (#22770018)
    Think about it. Right now, one of the major breadbaskets of the Unites States, the Palouse region, is in perfect shape weather-wise for a bumper crop of wheat this year. We do not exactly have a shortage. But overseas they might... AND the dollar is low...

    Sound to me like U.S. wheat farmers are going to clean up this year.

    Just send everything one way, okay, guys? We don't want that fungus over here!

    But since the apocalyptic scenario has been brought up: what a great illustration of the fact that we have WAY too much of our food crops being grown as huge tracts of monoculture, often all the same crop and all the same species. What a great target for famine-causing organisms.
  • Re:Nobody (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Maxo-Texas ( 864189 ) on Monday March 17, 2008 @12:15AM (#22770192)
    Aids is a joke in historical terms.

    A large portion of the population of africa will be immune to it in under 100 years. And it will still be virulent to the rest of the world -- mostly because the mortality rate in africa has been very high so there is an extreme selective pressure.

    Any population... bacteria... humans... deer... will suffer large losses but the survivors will repopulate at a very high rate.

    The loss of food is probably more dangerous since we might exterminate ourselves fighting over that last slice of toast.
  • by ArcherB ( 796902 ) * on Monday March 17, 2008 @12:17AM (#22770208) Journal

    are moaning about wheat production and asia sucking up production capacity at the moment as well. How ironic would it be after all the billions spent on security if we suffer catastrophic population denudation due to the simple fact we can't feed ourselves. Go mother nature, lets have some balance restored.
    Really? You are hoping for famine that could cause billions of innocent people to starve just to teach us a lesson? Seriously?

  • by odoketa ( 1040340 ) on Monday March 17, 2008 @12:26AM (#22770238) Homepage
    According to the NPR interview I heard with some science-type person on this, the monoculture we've bred was resistant to rust, so you would expect to see numbers going down... until a version of the fungus able to overcome that resistance comes along. Which is what has happened here.

    I just finished a book on phylloxera [wikipedia.org], and I find it interesting to see some of the parallels. Apparently 100 years is not enough time to learn from mistakes....
  • by LynnwoodRooster ( 966895 ) on Monday March 17, 2008 @01:50AM (#22770562) Journal
    You do know that, if the US chose to - we could grow enough food to feed every single person on this earth. And provide them all with hundreds of gallons of fresh water every day. And not need a single extra acre of farmland.

    Starvation in Africa is a political - not resource - problem. Starvation ANYWHERE is a political problem. Food is there, it can be grown, it could be delivered. But some tyrants prefer to starve their population...

  • by Mathinker ( 909784 ) on Monday March 17, 2008 @03:33AM (#22770846) Journal
    One might also ask what the definition of "newly discovered" is nowadays.
    Given the ever increasing rate of change, somehow 1999 doesn't cut it for me...
  • by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Monday March 17, 2008 @03:35AM (#22770856) Journal
    that use to be true, Back in the late 50's. We were the wealthiest nation on the earth, and more important, the earth's population was sustainable (2 billion). Not anymore.

    1. population is at 6 billion and growing fast.
    2. pollution levels are enormous; china is well beyond what the entire world had in the 50's.
    3. the strain on FRESH CLEAN water is well beyond our abilities to handle it (and about to get worse due to GW).
    No, we are LONG past the time when America COULD have handled things. As to tyrants "prefering" to starve their pop, that is not even close. I seriously doubt that anybody CHOOSES to starve their population. They are just incompetent idiots who are being backed by either EU, America or China and kept in power because of that (and yes, various countries EU still quietly backs various bad nations).
  • by Firrenzi ( 229219 ) on Monday March 17, 2008 @03:57AM (#22770932)
    We have fscked this world over for so long with chemicals, polutants and toxins and we are reaping what we have soon. for the last 200 years we have not lived in balance, consuming too much, not producing enough and not respecting the balance of ecologies and their requirements. Fisheries die out, we plant mono crop setups that rape the ground of it's resources without putting anything back. We live outside of the seasons in our own constructed time, and try to run it our way instead of natural physical laws that peoples have worked with for thousands of years.

    We fsck with biotoxins, dna splicing and nature in general to seek a better breed, but care not for the delicate balance that must be preserved. What diversity of species do we have compared now to 200, 300 years ago?

    The ecosystems can be so complex that we struggle to understand them, yet we do all these things knowingly that we are abusing delicate balances that should not be upset. The saddest things is that 'we know what we do' and continue to do it.

    We have a responsibility as sentient beings to this planet and we are fsking it into the ground. No sadly we reap what we sow. Cause and effect
  • by Urkki ( 668283 ) on Monday March 17, 2008 @04:11AM (#22770984)
    Even if AIDS itself were 100% lethal, there's still difference between being HIV positive and developing AIDS. There definitely is evolutionary pressure for supressing AIDS as long as possibe in HIV positive humans. The longer am HIV positive person stays "just infected", the more they can breed, and also the more they can spread the virus. So actually there is a two-way pressure both on humans and on HI virus to develop so that actual AIDS never starts. So there is an evolutionary pressure for evolving AIDS resistance and immunity.

    And then of course there is pressure for being immune to HIV itself. Wether it has developed in any human yet or not, that's unknown I guess, but if it does (by random mutation) happend, then definitely it's an evolutionary advantage and is likely to spread over generations.
  • by PMBjornerud ( 947233 ) on Monday March 17, 2008 @04:17AM (#22771006)

    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.
    Which "exceptions that turned out not to be" are these? I'd appreciate some links to read more about this.

    The latest information I had, was that there were some connection between the bubonic plague (Black Death) and AIDS resistance:
    http://www.wired.com/medtech/health/news/2005/01/66198 [wired.com] :

    An estimated 1 percent of people descended from Northern Europeans are virtually immune to AIDS infection, with Swedes the most likely to be protected.
  • Re:It's okay (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Rei ( 128717 ) on Monday March 17, 2008 @02:15PM (#22775484) Homepage
    I'll stop making fun of the "Hemp is a wonder crop" folks as soon as they start advocating for, say, kenaf (a largely superior fiber), or when 95% of the hemp advocacy sites online don't have words like "marijuana" in the URL.
  • Re:It's okay (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rei ( 128717 ) on Monday March 17, 2008 @03:01PM (#22776120) Homepage
    You get my point, though, don't you? The overwhelming majority of those touting hemp *virtually never* tout any other great fibers. Their sole reason they are concerned with hemp is made obvious by the sites where you see the advocacy, everywhere from "stopthedrugwar.org" to "nirvana-shop.co.uk" to "drugwarfacts.org" to "druglibrary.org" and so on. These people aren't into hemp because they've long had some sort of affection for quality fibers. Their sole interest is to try and show that the government went overboard with the drug war as part of a move to try and get the drug war repealed.

    Hemp is not some magical crop. It has many uses, but they're often way overstated, and other crops, like kenaf, are superior in most respects. It's just another crop, one that could be useful, but has unfortunately gotten caught up in politics. Yet every time the topic comes up, you get these druggies who treat it like it's the Second Coming of Christ, and then act all taken aback when you point out that it's not exactly the best choice in most applications. Even some very common products today are superior than their hemp equivalents -- for example, plain 'old manila rope, made from a type of banana leaf. Just as strong, but doesn't rot nearly as easily as hemp rope does (hemp rope is particularly insidious when it comes to rot, as it tends to rot from the inside out and wick water along so that the whole rope can rot). Or take the other "miracle" thing often mentioned, hemp oil. Yes, it also has many uses. It's also not a very thermally stable oil, and is somewhat prone to going rancid.

    Can you see how one can get sick of the politics-driven promotion of hemp as a cure-all?
  • by FreakWent ( 627155 ) <tf@ft.net.au> on Monday March 17, 2008 @06:26PM (#22778178)

    The wheat price is high because some food crops are being used for ethanol instead, so there's less food.

    The wheat price is also high because their is higher demand as China (Asia) moves like Russia did in the 70s to more meat in the average diet, so they need more grain to feed to animals. 10 calories of grain is needed to make 1 calorie of meat, IIRC.

    You see flour shortages in Pakistan, and massive queues and shortages, and that's not because of the USA dollar.

    It all comes back to the oil price, and the available energy per capita.

Each honest calling, each walk of life, has its own elite, its own aristocracy based on excellence of performance. -- James Bryant Conant