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    Could a Wheat-killing Fungus Turn the Whole World Gluten-Free?


    Jefferson Adams

    Celiac.com 09/25/2014 - Nine out of ten wheat crops around the globe are susceptible to a killer fungus that attacks wheat. The pathogen is Puccinia rust fungus. Puccinia triticina causes 'black rust', P.recondita causes 'brown rust' and P.striiformis causes 'Yellow rust'.


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    Photo: Wikimedia Commons--NabokovOriginally named Ug99, but now known as wheat stem rust, the fungus affects wheat, barley and rye stems, leaves and grains, and causes plants to rot and die just a few weeks after infection. Infections can lead up to 20% yield loss exacerbated by dying leaves which fertilize the fungus. The fungus regularly causes serious epidemics in North America, Mexico and South America and is a devastating seasonal disease in India, and a widespread outbreak could destroy flour supplies as we know them.

    Previous solutions to the problem of wheat stem rust relied on simple crossbreeding. Beginning in the 1940s, breeders began combining rust-sensitive commercial wheat with hardier rust-resistant strains. However, those solutions were only temporary at best, as the rust always managed to find a way around rust-resistant genes after just three or four years.

    Scientists now use what they say is a more effective method of thwarting rust, wheat breeding, called “pyramiding,” in which multiple rust resistant genes are loaded onto a single wheat strain, potentially keeping rust at bay for decades to come, but pyramiding takes up to 15 years to produce a rust-resistant wheat strain. This means that the vast majority of wheat strains under cultivation could be subject to rust in the mean time.

    Obviously, not all of the wheat strains susceptible to rust will be affected in any given year, but major outbreaks can and do happen. The possibility that large percentages of the world’s wheat crops could be destroyed by rust are very real, hence the intensity of the efforts to develop rust-resistant strains as quickly as possible.

    However, if these efforts fail, or lose traction, look for non-wheat crops to fill the gap. That will mean large numbers of people going gluten-free for reasons having nothing to do with celiac disease or dietary fads.

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    Guest Elizabeth

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    Rather than hybridizing with rust resistant strains, why not just plant the rust resistant strain?

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    Cool! wouldn't that be great for us. No more worries about cross-contamination.

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    Another good reason to be gluten free and GMO free. Wheat is so far from the original plant, it's starting to get scary.

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    Rather than hybridizing with rust resistant strains, why not just plant the rust resistant strain?

    Most often, the disease-resistant strains of crops are poor-yielding, or have other susceptibilities that make them undesirable. Before wheat was domesticated (more than 10,000 years ago), the wild ancestor was pretty worthless to grow for food. Thankfully, there are some 25,000 cultivars of wheat that have been developed, so there is a lot of genetic diversity that the breeders can tap into. But they are always only one step ahead of the pathogens -- for any crop.

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    Cool! wouldn't that be great for us. No more worries about cross-contamination.

    That's "cool" only if you are happy about world-wide starvation! And wheat is not the only grain crop that has gluten, so we would still have the same worries. There is no universally safe food for all people. In China, more people have an intolerance to rice than to wheat. Not only that, every single crop has it's own set of pathogens. (Just look up "rice diseases" in Wikipedia.) Breeders have the same problems in other crops as in wheat, and are applying the same technique of breeding in multiple resistances in an effort to keep ahead of pathogens. But pathogens are clever organisms and can adapt to mechanisms of resistance. Disease isn't good for people or plants. celiac disease is a heavy burden, but not an excuse to dump food sources of other people.

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    Another good reason to be gluten free and GMO free. Wheat is so far from the original plant, it's starting to get scary.

    If wheat were not so far from the original plant, it would not be a source of food today. The same goes for all the other grains, most of which are even farther from the original ancestor than wheat. Before crops were domesticated, there was no agriculture. People hunted and they gathered grains and berries from plants that yielded such meager nutrition that they had no time to do anything else but try to keep themselves fed. Domestication was accomplished by stone age plant breeders using some of the same approaches that are used today.

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    Guest Jefferson

    Posted

    Rather than hybridizing with rust resistant strains, why not just plant the rust resistant strain?

    Good question. Likely for reasons having to do with lower yields, less favorable characteristics, lower resistance to other pests, and other factors.

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams is a freelance writer living in San Francisco. He has covered Health News for Examiner.com, and provided health and medical content for Sharecare.com. His work has appeared in Antioch Review, Blue Mesa Review, CALIBAN, Hayden's Ferry Review, Huffington Post, the Mississippi Review, and Slate, among others.

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    Amy Leger
    Celiac.com 10/29/2008 - Equality.  That’s all any parent wants for his or her child.  In this case I’m talking about food at school.  Are you completely frustrated that you can’t get a gluten-free lunch for your child at school?   According to a recent survey by the American Celiac Disease Alliance, many parents of celiac children may feel the same way.  The survey conducted during the summer of 2008, found of 2,200 respondents, 90% had to regularly pack gluten-free lunches for their celiac child. I used to be one of them and was stuck feeling like I was banging my head against a wall trying to get a few hot lunches for my child.  That goal of equality saw me through a journey — years in the making — that would eventually pay off.
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    Jefferson Adams
    Celiac.com 07/09/2014 - Does the blood pressure medication Benicar (Olmesartan medoxomil) trigger celiac-like gut symptoms?
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    Sources:
    Mayo Clinic: Study on Benicar and sprue-like enteropathy FDA Safety Communication Concerning Label Change on Benicar, 2013. digitaljournal.com.

    Jefferson Adams
    Celiac.com 08/29/2014 - Well, we haven’t had a good gluten-free celebrity dustup in a while, so I’m happy to report that the most recent shots have been fired by actor Charlize Theron, who called ‘b$#@@#$$’ on the non-celiac gluten-free diet fad in Hollywood.
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    Jefferson Adams
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    Jefferson Adams
    Celiac.com 06/19/2018 - Could baking soda help reduce the inflammation and damage caused by autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, and celiac disease? Scientists at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University say that a daily dose of baking soda may in fact help reduce inflammation and damage caused by autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, and celiac disease.
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    Jefferson Adams
    Celiac.com 06/18/2018 - Celiac disease has been mainly associated with Caucasian populations in Northern Europe, and their descendants in other countries, but new scientific evidence is beginning to challenge that view. Still, the exact global prevalence of celiac disease remains unknown.  To get better data on that issue, a team of researchers recently conducted a comprehensive review and meta-analysis to get a reasonably accurate estimate the global prevalence of celiac disease. 
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    Rates of celiac disease were 0.4% in South America, 0.5% in Africa and North America, 0.6% in Asia, and 0.8% in Europe and Oceania; the prevalence was 0.6% in female vs 0.4% males. Celiac disease was significantly more common in children than adults.
    This systematic review and meta-analysis showed celiac disease to be reported worldwide. Blood test data shows celiac disease rate of 1.4%, while biopsy data shows 0.7%. The prevalence of celiac disease varies with sex, age, and location. 
    This review demonstrates a need for more comprehensive population-based studies of celiac disease in numerous countries.  The 1.4% rate indicates that there are 91.2 million people worldwide with celiac disease, and 3.9 million are in the U.S.A.
    Source:
    Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2018 Jun;16(6):823-836.e2. doi: 10.1016/j.cgh.2017.06.037.