Scientists Create ‘Super’ Wheat To Boost Food Security

Scientists report they’re close to producing new “super varieties” of wheat that will resist a virulent fungus and boost yields up to 15 percent, easing a deadly threat to the world’s food supply.

Scientists say they're close to producing 'super varieties' of wheat that will resist a virulent fungus which leaves behind fields of withered black stems. Photo: Geoff Greene/Flickr

The Associated Press informs that an intense five-year research have yielded benefits. Scientists are now on the brink of detecting a new strain of “super wheat” able to withstand the current epidemic of wheat stem rust (a virulent fungus known as UG99) that has been threatening to destroy up to 90% of the world’s most vital food crop. The signs of infection of wheat plants are the following: wheat plants become covered in reddish-brown blisters,lose their grain.

In a recent press release, the Borlaug Global Wheat Rust Initiative reported about the development of wheat that will resist the dangerous UG99 pathogen and boost wheat crop yields up to 15%. An epidemic of wheat decay provoked by UG99 is spreading across Africa, Asia and most recently into the Middle East, causing the main concern and an increase of food riots. The largest non-commercial news organization NPR reports: “The fungus has now spread across all of eastern and southern Africa, and it might just be a matter of time before it reaches India or Pakistan, and even Australia and the Americas.”

Significant obstacles must be overcome before the resistant new varieties of wheat can replace the susceptible varieties that now make up approximately 90% of production. So that overcam this obstacles, it is called for more investments by wealthy countries and international institutions to continue developing the varieties and develop the infrastructure needed to put the new varieties in the hands of poor farmers in developing countries.

The new “super varieties” of wheat developed by scientists through conventional cross breeding and not genetic engineering. Genetically modified organisms has the genetic material altered in a way that doesn’t occur naturally. It allows selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism to another.

The primary focus of the top agricultural biotech companies are to genetically alter the plant for increased resistance to pests, herbicides, and higher crop yields. This industry is mostly unregulated and consumer safety appears to be secondary. Consumers are kept in the dark about potential health hazards of genetically engineered foods. Over 80% of processed foods in the U.S. have been modified.

The unregulated mass of human experiment poses enormous risks. Independent studies have shown impaired immune systems, bleeding stomachs, impaired blood cell development, liver and kidney lesions, reduced digestive enzymes, higher blood sugar, and allergic reactions. These biotech companies are playing genetic roulette.

So “kudos” to the scientists producing ‘super varieties’ of wheat that will resist three different types of stem rust including Ug99, and a potential of increasing production by 15%. The development of this new wheat crop is being done through conventional cross-breeding and not through the potential time bomb of health problems that can result from genetic modified organisms. Human safety has to take precedence over all other factors, especially agricultural biotech profits.

The new strains mark a huge advance, said Marty Carson, research director at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Cereal Research Laboratory at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul. “Anytime you can talk about a 15 percent boost in yields from existing varieties, I mean that’s phenomenal.”

Carson, who wasn’t directly involved in that research, continued: “And to get combined resistance to all three rusts, that’s also a very big deal.”  His lab, which is heavily involved in the fight against Ug99, is hosting the conference along with the University of Minnesota next week.

The Borlaug Global Rust Initiative was launched five years ago by the late Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug in response to the Ug99 threat. Borlaug, an alumnus of the University of Minnesota, was a leader of CIMMYT (International maize and wheat improvement center). His research sparked the “Green Revolution” of the 1960s that transformed agriculture through high-yield, disease-resistant crops and other innovations, helping to more than double world food production by 1990. He’s credited with saving perhaps 1 billion people from starvation.

Ravi Singh, a wheat breeder at CIMMYT, helped lead the research on the new strains, which he’ll present at the conference and publish later this year in the Annual Review of Phytopathology. He said in an interview that the new varieties were developed through conventional crossbreeding, not genetic engineering. They have been tested successfully for disease resistance in Kenya and Ethiopia, where Ug99 is endemic, as well as at the USDA lab in St. Paul.

Donor-funded CIMMYT distributes its seed for free to keep it affordable, Singh said, and the new varieties will be planted in several countries for yield trials in the coming growing season in hopes they can enter widespread use in a few years. [via Daily Mail (UK), Fox News and Gather]

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