Scientists say they’re close to producing new “super varieties” of wheat that will resist a virulent fungus while boosting yields up to 15 percent, potentially easing a deadly threat to the world’s food supply. The research is part of a global drive to protect wheat crops from the Ug99 strain of stem rust. It will be presented next week at a conference in St. Paul that’s part of the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative, based at Cornell University
Researchers will report at the conference that new varieties of wheat under development at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico show resistance to all three kinds of wheat rust – stem rust including Ug99, yellow rust and leaf rust – the release said. Some of those varieties also boost yields 10 to 15 percent, it said.
But significant obstacles must be overcome before the resistant new varieties of wheat can replace the susceptible varieties that make up as much as 90 percent of the wheat now in production, the researchers acknowledged. They called for more investments by wealthy countries and international institutions to continue developing the varieties, to help them keep them effective against diseases that continue to evolve, and to develop the seed production and distribution infrastructure needed to put the new varieties in the hands of poor farmers in developing countries.
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. 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.