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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 a whoabot ( 706122 ) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @11:22PM (#22769934)
    What's the definition of "central Asia"? Is there really "billions of people" there?
  • Strangely the brits (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Timesprout ( 579035 ) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @11:31PM (#22769982)
    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.
  • by cyberzephyr ( 705742 ) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @11:35PM (#22770006) Journal
    I think it's too soon to worry about a rust that only eats wheat. If you look here: You will see that there is a Wheat form that people have been using for a long time and with no problems. They might be complaining that beer production might go down!
  • Strains (Score:4, Interesting)

    by esocid ( 946821 ) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @11:38PM (#22770020) Journal
    I wish the article would have mentioned how related the African and Asian wheat strains were to European and American strains. Since US corn crops are about 85% genetically similar doesn't make the situation in the US good at all. If it does hit the US pretty hard we may be seeing wheat coming from Mexico most likely.
  • Nobody (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jd ( 1658 ) <imipak AT yahoo DOT com> on Sunday March 16, 2008 @11:51PM (#22770084) Homepage Journal
    Can tell you what to be afraid of, they can only tell you what they are afraid of. Personally, I favour the approach of knowing more about a subject before dismissing it, and I regard this new problem as potentially very significant. However, there is a huge difference between what is possible and what actually happens. H5N1 is a possible threat (and can therefore be prevented before it becomes actual). AIDS is an actual disaster and, no matter what is ever achieved, the best that can be done is preventing that disaster from becoming worse. You can't prevent it from being a tragedy at this point. Global warming - well, it depends on who you talk to. James Lovelock - one of the world's premiere environmental scientists - thinks prevention is now impossible. Others, just as notable, think it is. World wheat collapses? A lot of land has been cleared for beef (and, these days, corn) around the world, well outside the affected areas, so I'm inclined to think that action is still possible... ...but only if it's taken seriously as a possibility. It's when nobody cares that things become a disaster.

    As for the over-medicated culture we live in, that's still about not caring. If people cared, they wouldn't avoid. If they didn't avoid, they wouldn't need over-medicating. Avoiding by apathy or by drugs is the same thing.

  • 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.

    While I generally agree with your sentiment, I was surprised to read (in this article []) that:

    Black stem rust itself is nothing new. It has been a major blight on heat production since the rise of agriculture, and the Romans even prayed to a stem rust god, Robigus. It can reduce a field of ripening grain to a dead, tangled mass, and vast outbreaks egularly used to rip through wheat regions. The last to hit the North American breadbasket, in 1954, wiped out 40 per cent of the crop. In the cold war both the US and the Soviet Union stockpiled stem rust spores as a biological weapon.
    So... rust fungus has been less of a problem in recent years, when we've been less diverse. Quite interesting.

    (oh, and I now have a new favorite God - Robigus.)
  • Pellegrino /Dust/ (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Olaf Underbridge ( 717091 ) on Monday March 17, 2008 @01:00AM (#22770394)
    This reminds me of the novel /Dust/ by Charles Pellegrino. See for a pretty good review.
    ISBN-10: 0380787423
    ISBN-13: 978-0380787425
  • Amaranth (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bitspotter ( 455598 ) on Monday March 17, 2008 @01:19AM (#22770468) Journal
    I hear buzz growing about amaranth [] as a grain contender. Better protein, restores soil nutrients, etc.
  • Re:Nobody (Score:4, Interesting)

    by FrostedChaos ( 231468 ) on Monday March 17, 2008 @02:47AM (#22770728) Homepage
    If you look at the example of malaria, sleeping sickness, and yellow fever-- all of which are scourges in Africa-- I think you'll see that 100 years is far too short for humans to evolve a way around AIDS. Anyway, up until scientific medicine came on the scene, cholera, smallpox, and whooping cough routinely decimated Europe. So it's not even clear that people would become immune naturally, even in thousands of years.
  • by microbox ( 704317 ) on Monday March 17, 2008 @07:43AM (#22771848)
    Bubonic plague is transported in the body in a similar way to HIV. There is a recessive gene that provides immunity [], so you can be born flat-out immune to aids. It works by changing the shape of white blood cells.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 17, 2008 @09:20AM (#22772442) [] actually there have been cases of confirmed survival and immunity.
  • Re:It's okay (Score:2, Interesting)

    by cleatsupkeep ( 1132585 ) on Monday March 17, 2008 @02:29PM (#22775680) Homepage
    I think its the monorail song - from the Music Man style guy.

    Lyle Lanley: Well, sir, there's nothing on earth
    Like a genuine,
    Bona fide,
    What'd I say?
    Ned Flanders: Monorail!
    Lyle Lanley: What's it called?
    Patty+Selma: Monorail!
    Lyle Lanley: That's right! Monorail!
    [crowd chants `Monorail' softly and rhythmically]
    Miss Hoover: I hear those things are awfully loud...
    Lyle Lanley: It glides as softly as a cloud.
    Apu: Is there a chance the track could bend?
    Lyle Lanley: Not on your life, my Hindu friend.
    Barney: What about us brain-dead slobs?
    Lyle Lanley: You'll be given cushy jobs.
    Abe: Were you sent here by the devil?
    Lyle Lanley: No, good sir, I'm on the level.
    Wiggum: The ring came off my pudding can.
    Lyle Lanley: Take my pen knife, my good man.
    I swear it's Springfield's only choice...
    Throw up your hands and raise your voice!
    All: Monorail!
    Lyle Lanley: What's it called?
    All: Monorail!
    Lyle Lanley: Once again...
    All: Monorail!
    Marge: But Main Street's still all cracked and broken...
    Bart: Sorry, Mom, the mob has spoken!
    All: Monorail!
    [big finish]
    Homer: Mono... D'oh!

The only possible interpretation of any research whatever in the `social sciences' is: some do, some don't. -- Ernest Rutherford