A crop-borne fungus that targets wheat, named Ug99 because it was first identified in Uganda in 1999, has become one of the primary threats to global food security. Newfound virulence in the evolving stem-rust strain suggests the fungus could destroy as much as 80% of the world’s most widely grown crop: wheat.
Jim Peterson, who is professor of wheat breeding and genetics at Oregon State University in Corvallis, has called Ug99 a “time bomb” for the world wheat harvest. Ug99 has already “jumped the Red Sea” and has reached as far as Iran. Concern is spreading it will soon reach the Asian breadbasket of Pakistan, India and China, and will at some point spread to North America. It’s just a matter of when.
Infinite Unknown reported in March: “Scientists meeting in Mexico this week at a summit on Ug99 worry it will continue travelling east and infect major wheat growing centres in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, which produce nearly 15% of the world’s wheat and feed more than a billion of the world’s poorest people.”
Crop breeders are working to develop resistant wheat varieties, but the increased virulence seen in East African samples of Ug99 has caused concern the fungus could cause a global collapse of the human food supply.