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Borlaug's daughter in Delhi to fight wheat disease

Kalyan Ray New Delhi, dhns: August 19, 2013 2:16 IST
Fifty years after Norman Borlaug, the father of Green Revolution, set his foot in India, his daughter Jeanie is here to encourage farm scientists for undertaking intense research to insulate India from a catastrophic plant disease called Ug99 that can wipe off the entire wheat crop.

Ug99 is the deadliest crop disease that has surfaced in the last decade. Being at the heart of the world’s largest contiguous wheat growing region, India faces high risks from this disease largely because of the popular wheat variety PBW 343's susceptibility and short distance from Yemen and Iran where the disease was found.

“It is a matter of only one spore reaching India. Any aeroplane passenger may be carrying it or wind flow can bring it to the south east Asia. India is one of the high risk regions,” Ronnie Coffman, a professor of plant breeding at Cornell University, US, and vice chair of Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI), a global programme on wheat rust, told Deccan Herald here.

Rust is the oldest disease in wheat and generations of plant breeders developed varieties resistant to rust. But the new black rust Ug99 – discovered in Uganda in 1999 – defeats all genetic resistance that protected wheat in the last 30 years. Most of the wheat crop cultivated in the world are completely defence-less against it.

An estimated 85 per cent of wheat now in production, including most wheat grown in the US, Asia and Africa, is susceptible to Ug99 and its variants. For now, however, only the original mutation, Ug99, has been found outside Africa, in Yemen and Iran.

“The vast wheat-growing region that stretches across North Africa and Central Asia all the way to the gateway to China—the world's largest wheat-growing nation—is still vulnerable," said Coffman, who incidentally was the first student of Norman Borlaug, the father of Green Revolution who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for contributing towards global peace by increasing food supply.

Coffman, Jeanie Borlaug Laube and other international scientists will be in the capital for the next four days attending a scientific conference to sensitise Indian scientists and policymakers on the importance of staying focused on Ug99.

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