CORVALLIS, Ore. Both plant and human diseases that can travel with the wind have the potential to spread far more rapidly than has been understood, according to a new study, in findings that pose serious concerns not only for some human diseases but also a new fungus that threatens global wheat production.
The research, done by scientists at Oregon State University and other institutions, concluded that invading diseases do not always progress in an orderly, constant rate. These historical studies of both plant and animal diseases show that some pathogens that can be carried through the air can actually accelerate as they move, and can become widespread problems much faster than had been thought possible.
"It's now becoming clear that some types of diseases can spread more rapidly and widely than we anticipated," said Chris Mundt, a professor of plant pathology at OSU. "This makes it especially important, in some cases, to stop a spreading disease quickly if you hope to stop it at all."
The studies explain, in part, how West Nile Virus spread so rapidly across the United States when experts had been expecting a more plodding, methodical progression of the disease. They help analyze the progression of some historic disease problems, such as the catastrophic potato late blight that led to the Irish potato famine of the mid-1840s. And they suggest that a new fungal pathogen of wheat that emerged a few years ago in Uganda may pose a much more urgent threat to wheat production around the world than first thought.
The research, in fact, used stripe rust of wheat, which has spores that can spread on the wind, as a model to help explain how this and other pathogens can move. Mundt, an international expert on pathogens of several important food crops, has studied stripe rust for years.
"If we didn't have crops that could resist wheat stem rust, we pretty much wouldn't have a wheat industry," Mundt said. "From this pathogen
|Contact: Chris Mundt|
Oregon State University