The enemy, Puccinia graminis, is a new mutant strain of fungus... Nicknamed Ug99 after it was discovered in Uganda in 1999, this new race of stem rust is the rabbit of cereal grain pathogens -- creating new generations of spores in a matter of weeks. It has crippled wheat farms in East Africa and jumped across the Red Sea to Yemen and Iran...
"By way of the prevailing winds, we're now afraid that if Ug99 gets a beachhead in the Middle East, it can spread to the breadbaskets of south Asia, Pakistan and India. "That," he said, "would be absolutely devastating for the world's wheat and economy."
Eighty percent of the world's wheat and 95 percent of the Upper Midwest region's top bread-baking grain is vulnerable to the new pathogen..
"With some other rusts, you might see yield losses of 10 percent or 40 percent in a worst-case scenario," Anderson said. "This new stem rust can virtually wipe out a crop."
Their battle is nothing new. Centuries ago, Romans held an annual festival around this time of year just as rust would have taken hold on grain stems in Italy. They would sacrifice a dog and sheep and pray to the rust god to leave their crops alone.
"Scaly Robigo, god of rust, spare Ceres' grain," the ancient Roman poet Ovid wrote. "Let silky blades quiver on the soil's skin ... and keep scabrous hands from the harvest."
23 May 2010
"Scaly Robigo, god of rust, spare Ceres' grain..."
A mutant fungus is threatening world wheat crops. Here are some excerpts from a StarTribune article: