Ancient “Weed” Could Save Middle East Wheat

bread, wheat, science, stem rust, wheat resistant to stem rust, food, health, agriculture, Middle EastA particularly virulent strain of stem rust that first struck Uganda’s wheat crops in1999 before it spread up into Sudan and Yemen, Ug99 might have met its match in a 5,000 year old weed.

Researchers from the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Agriculture and Environment sought to find a gene that can stand up to the Ug99 stem rust pathogen, which has decimated wheat crops in a curl of countries spreading east from Uganda and up into Yemen.

Today it threatens approximately 90 percent of the globe’s wheat farms.

“Wheat crops worldwide are vulnerable to this fungal disease and it has ruined entire harvests in Africa and the Middle East. The promise of creating wheat with greater resistance to stem rust is of major importance to the agricultural industry,” Professor Harbans Bariana told Physorg.

Dr. Bariana and his team cloned the Sr33 gene from goat grass, a prohibited weed in present day Australia that was widely cultivated during the Bronze age, and then plugged it into a modern wheat gene to test its efficacy against Ug99.

It is resistant, quite like the Sr35 gene detected by American researchers Eduard Akhunov, associate professor of plant pathology at Kansas State University, and his colleague, Jorge Dubcovsky from the University of California-Davis.

That gene was discovered in einkorn wheat grown in Turkey, Physorg reported in an earlier story, a country whose culture has grown up alongside bread.

The results of both studies were first printed in the journal Science, and their potential contribution to humanity can’t be stressed enough.

:: Physorg

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2 thoughts on “Ancient “Weed” Could Save Middle East Wheat”

  1. Chris Green says:

    The task now is to do a wide search for strains of wheat which already have the Sr33 gene, if any do, and cross that with a wide number of different varieties, including einkorn and spelt, and then further crossbreed them 3 or 4 more times until there is a very wide diversity amongst wheat varieties.

  2. Ned Hamson says:

    Good news and bad news. That so much of the world’s wheat is subject to attack from the same fungus is bad news and evidence that industrialized wheat farming makes the world more vulnerable to massive crop failures because there is too little diversity of grains and too much grain is planted in mega-fields. Nature rewards diversity by leaving it alone and attacks what seems to be over-population of a single species of anything.

    The good news is maybe someone will re-learn the value of diversity from this rather than continue to think humans can out smart the natural system or delude ourselves that we are not part of the system.

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