The Associated Press reports that after five years of intense research, scientists are now on the brink of identifying a new strain of “super wheat” able to withstand the current epidemic of wheat stem rust (a virulent fungus known as UG99) that has been threatening to destroy up to 90% of the world’s most vital food crop.
In a recent press release, the Borlaug Global Wheat Rust Initiative announced the development of wheat that will resist the dangerous UG99 pathogen, while boosting wheat crop yields by as much as 15 percent. An epidemic of wheat decay caused by UG99 is currently spreading across Africa, Asia and most recently into the Middle East, causing major concern and an increase of food riots. NPR reports:
“The fungus has now spread across all of eastern and southern Africa, and it might just be a matter of time before it reaches India or Pakistan, and even Australia and the Americas.“
While this most recent plague of wheat stem rust surfaced in 1998, the fungus is rooted in an ancient one that has been threatening the world’s wheat for eons. The last known outbreak, in 1953, was stemmed by the the ground-breaking research of “green revolution” plant pathologist, Norman Borlaug, who developed a resistant wheat strain in 1970 — a feat which earned him the Nobel Prize for Peace that year.
The Borlaug Global Rust Initiative will present its findings on the new varieties of “super wheat” at a conference to be held at the University of Minnesota next week.
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