That new type of wheat stem rust, Mundt said, has the potential to attack 75 percent of the world's known wheat varieties, and in a bad year might cause up to 50 percent crop losses in some parts of the world.
"We don't want to suggest that the sky is falling, but major losses could occur if the right set of conditions converges," Mundt said. "This is something that we shouldn't take a chance on. It's already spread to Iran, and the new research shows that its global spread may be about to pick up speed."
People are aware of this problem, already working on it, and hopefully they will be able to develop wheat varieties that are more resistant to it, Mundt said.
"But our new understanding of the speed with which pathogens such as this can spread suggest that we don't have a lot of time to waste," he said. "If anything we should be increasing and accelerating our work on a way to deal with this pathogen.
"This wheat disease problem could be global within a few years," Mundt said. "We would be foolish to ignore it."
Most plant and animal diseases that are spread by contact or close proximity tend to move in a fairly predictable and constant rate of speed, researchers say. However, a significant number of pathogens can be borne by wind-carried spores or migrating birds. In those cases, even though only small amounts of an invading pathogen may show up at any one remote spot, it has the potential to get a foothold and spread rapidly at this distant location giving the invading pathogen the ability to literally accelerate as the epidemic spreads.
In just two years from 2004-06, the avian bird flu spread across parts of three continents in Africa, Euro
|Contact: Chris Mundt|
Oregon State University