Fungus Poised to Kill Off World's Wheat
US scientists race to find plants resistant to the Ug99 fungus
By Katherine Thompson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 14, 2009 6:02 PM CDT
Palestinian farmer, Hhmed Al-Rayan, 63, harvests wheat on a field in the West Bank village of Beit Nuba on the outskirts of Ramallah, Saturday, May. 30. 2009.   (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)
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(Newser) – A rust-colored fungus could destroy 80% of the world's wheat crops in a few years unless scientists counter it with genetically resistant strains, the Los Angeles Times reports. The Ug99 fungus—an ancient wheat-killer that rose up again in Africa 10 years ago—is already threatening 19% of the world's wheat and becoming more virulent as it spreads. "It's a time bomb," one analyst said.

Scientists are breeding Ug99-resistant wheat that will take 9 to 12 years to incorporate into breeding techniques—while the fungus, which is air-borne, can simply ride to other countries on the clothes of an airline passenger. Experts say it is poised to enter India and Pakistan, then China and Russia. North America can't be far off. "A significant humanitarian crisis is inevitable," said one researcher.