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New dangerous wheat disease

The research, done by scientists at Oregon State University and other institutions, concluded that invading diseases do not always progress in an orderly, constant rate.

The studies explain, in part, how West Nile Virus spread so rapidly across the United States when experts had been expecting a more plodding, methodical progression of the disease. The research, in fact, used stripe rust of wheat, which has spores that can spread on the wind, as a model to help explain how this and other pathogens can move.

That new type of wheat stem rust has the potential to attack 75 percent of the world's known wheat varieties, and in a bad year might cause up to 50 percent crop losses in some parts of the world.

"We don't want to suggest that the sky is falling, but major losses could occur if the right set of conditions converges," Mundt, a professor of plant pathology at OSU, said. "This is something that we shouldn't take a chance on. It's already spread to Iran, and the new research shows that its global spread may be about to pick up speed."

People are aware of this problem, already working on it, and hopefully they will be able to develop wheat varieties that are more resistant to it, Mundt said.

"But our new understanding of the speed with which pathogens such as this can spread suggest that we don't have a lot of time to waste," he said. "If anything we should be increasing and accelerating our work on a way to deal with this pathogen.

"This wheat disease problem could be global within a few years," Mundt said. "We would be foolish to ignore it."

by S. C.
30 march 2009, Technical Area > Science News

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