Stem Rust Reemergence: Deadly Conservation Efforts

By Charles Bunnell

         Following the reappearance of “stem rust”, a fungal infection that 80% of UK wheat crops are susceptible to, researchers of the John Innes Centre of Norwich, UK have begun investigating causes for the return of this plant disease which has not plagued crops in Britain for 60 years. Through the efforts of global genetic testing, the UK strain of stem rust belongs to the Digalu race of the fungus which has been responsible for devastating outbreaks within Ethiopia, as well as smaller outbreaks within other countries of Europe. According to Dr. Daniel Bebber of Exeter University, UK, climate change over the last 25 years has greatly increased the survivability of fungal growth and its ability to infect plants. In addition to the fact that European wheat has a low resistance to infections in general, it is believed that the primary host of stem rust, Barberry (a shrub), has increased in popularity. The plant, which was noticed to have an adverse effect on the health of nearby cereals by English farmers, had been largely removed until the early 20th century. Efforts to replant the shrub, in spite of its now apparent effects on cereal crops, has been spurred by the endangerment of the Barberry Carpet moth, which relies upon the shrub. Dr. Diane Saunders, one of the primary investigators into the invasive infection, has stated the next steps in the process of conserving both the Barberry and wheat crops will be to plant the shrubs away from arable land, or within gardens, thus alleviating both concerns.

 

John Innes Centre. "First report in decades of a forgotten crop pathogen calls for critical close monitoring." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 February 2018. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/02/180208104249.htm>.