Will stem rust destroy the world's wheat crop?
Race Ug99, or TTKSK, of fungus Puccinia graminis tritici, causing stem or black rust disease on wheat (Triticum aestivum), first identified in Uganda in 1998 has been recognized as a major threat to wheat production. Its spread in 2006 to Yemen and Sudan and further spread towards North Africa, Middle East and West-South Asia is predicted -aided by predominant wind currents and large areas of wheat varieties that are susceptible and grown under environments favorable for survival and multiplication of the pathogen. This has raised serious concerns of major epidemics that could destroy the wheat crop in these primary risk areas. Detection in Kenya of a new variant TTKST in 2006 with virulence to gene Sr24, which caused severe epidemics in 2007 in some regions of Kenya and rendered about half of the previously known Ug99-resistant global wheat materials susceptible, has further increased the vulnerability globally. Rigorous screening since 2005 in Kenya and Ethiopia of wheat materials from 22 countries and International Centers has identified low frequency of resistant materials that have potential to replace susceptible cultivars. Diverse sources of resistance, both race-specific and adult-plant type, are now available in high-yielding wheat backgrounds and are being used in breeding. The proposed strategy is to deploy spring wheat varieties possessing durable, adult plant resistance in East Africa and other primary risk areas to reduce inoculum and selection of new virulences capable of overcoming undefeated race-specific resistance genes. Race-specific resistance genes can then be deployed in secondary risk areas preferably in combinations. We believe that Ug99 threat in most countries can be reduced to low levels by urgently identifying, releasing and providing seed of new high yielding, resistant varieties.