Scientists fear resurgence of devastating wheat disease in Europe
A devastating disease that attacks barley and wheat - the world’s most widely grown crop - could re-emerge in Europe, scientists said on Thursday.
Over 80pc of 57 wheat varieties tested in Britain are susceptible to the strain of stem rust that was discovered in an infected plant in Suffolk in 2013, the first time the disease has reappeared since 1955, they said.
The same strain battered wheat crops in Ethiopia, and caused smaller outbreaks in Sweden, Denmark and Germany in 2013, a study in the journal Communications Biology said.
These outbreaks, as well as the infection in Britain, are “a warning sign” to take immediate action, Diane Saunders, a plant pathologist at the UK-based John Innes Centre and lead author of the study, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Stem rust can devastate wheat, the source of food and livelihoods for more than 1 billion people in developing countries, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
It could wipe out 70pc or more of the crop, turning a healthy looking crop, only weeks away from harvest, into a tangle of black stems and shrivelled grains, the agency said.
The risks posed by wheat rusts are growing, with modern versions of the fungus becoming ever more virulent, evolving to adapt to the earth’s higher temperatures, the FAO said.
Breeding wheat varieties resistant to the disease is key to controlling it and this can take a long time, Saunders said.