Researchers in South Africa think they now know what causes a deadly wheat pathogen that threatens the vital global food source.
The discovery, made by researchers at the University of Free State in South Africa working with an international team, uncovers the origin of a particular race of stem rust fungus called UgG99 (Race TTKSK).
This race of rust disease was first detected in Uganda in 1998, and it has spread throughout Africa and to the Middle East devastating wheat crops.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, UG99 is historically the most damaging disease in wheat.
Researchers determined the pathogen can be traced to something that rarely happens: when two different rust strains fuse together and exchange intact nuclei.
The research team says this new knowledge means they are now better equipped to fight this pest.
The FAO reports 80 to 90% of the global wheat cultivars are susceptible to Ug99. Additionally, this disease is particularly important to research for control as rust pathogen can mutate and change rapidly. For example, six variants are now known from the Ug99 lineage.