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Plant Pandemic Could Make Billions Go Hungry: Study

A pandemic of the fungal wheat blast illness could threaten food supplies across the globe, according to scientists. The disease is a threat to wheat, one of the world’s most important food crops. Research details indicates that two instances of the South American wheat blast fungus brought the disease to Asia and Africa, a clonal lineage of which has now spread across both continents. The yield loss currently caused by pests and disease in wheat averages at over 20%. Wheat is now under threat from expansion of the blast pandemic causing by the Magnaporthe oryzae fungus, which can cause total crop losses. Wheat blast first emerged in Brazil in 1985, but has subsequently been reported in Zambia and Bangladesh, where it led to yield losses averaging at 51% in 2016. The spread of the disease to three continents, all with favourable climates, is unprecedented, according to the scientists behind the research. They warn that it presents a significant threat to global food security, compounded by the challenges of climate change and conflict. According to Professor Nick Talbot of the UK’s Sainsbury Laboratory, a co-author of the study: “Only by really understanding the enemy and the pathogens that cause these diseases will we be able to really preventively control them. We have to assume that plant diseases are going to spread all over the world through the impacts of climate change and globalisation, and we have to be prepared for them…We have to be proactive rather than reactive; we have to anticipate how the diseases will move and therefore plan accordingly.”

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