Planting a barrier to block UG99 wheat rust

An article in the November issue of Agricultural Research magazine, house organ of the US Department of Agriculture, warns: “World Wheat Supply Threatened!” complete with exclamation point. Well, yes, as we have indeed pointed out before. However, the article’s subtitle explains: “Luckily, research is under way to defend this grain of life.”

Phew! They had me worried.

Hidden in the write-up, which is to-the-point and interesting, is what struck me as a pretty off-the-wall suggestion. US scientists plan to focus resistant varieties (if and when they are developed) in southern states such as Texas, Georgia and Louisiana. The spores of UG99 can overwinter in the warm climates of the South, so the hope is that by preventing the disease getting a hold there, they can prevent it spreading to the rest of the country. Intriguing idea, but I wonder whether it really stands a chance.

There’s more in the article, on the resistance genes that might be inserted into US wheats and on the vital role of properly trained people in the field, who spotted UG99 early on and were able to sound the alarm.

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