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

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'.

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.

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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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8 Responses:

 
celiacMom
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said this on
30 Sep 2014 5:57:45 AM PDT
Interesting.

 
Elizabeth
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said this on
30 Sep 2014 8:12:28 AM PDT
Rather than hybridizing with rust resistant strains, why not just plant the rust resistant strain?

 
Sue
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said this on
10 Oct 2014 8:34:58 AM PDT
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.

 
Jefferson
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said this on
23 Oct 2014 5:57:30 PM PDT
Good question. Likely for reasons having to do with lower yields, less favorable characteristics, lower resistance to other pests, and other factors.

 
Cindy
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said this on
30 Sep 2014 8:23:54 AM PDT
Cool! wouldn't that be great for us. No more worries about cross-contamination.

 
Sue
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said this on
10 Oct 2014 8:47:27 AM PDT
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.

 
Diane
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said this on
02 Oct 2014 9:20:56 AM PDT
Another good reason to be gluten free and GMO free. Wheat is so far from the original plant, it's starting to get scary.

 
Sue
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said this on
10 Oct 2014 9:04:25 AM PDT
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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It took me 20 years or more Barry so I wouldn't claim any great insight on this I had a 'eureka' moment, up until then I was walking around with multiple symptoms and not connecting any dots whatsoever. It is very, very difficult to diagnose and that's something that's reflected in so many of the experiences detailed here. A food diary may help in your case. It helped me to connect the gaps between eating and onset. It could help you to track any gluten sources should you go gluten free. It is possible for your reactions to change over time. As to whether its celiac, that's something you could explore with your doctor, stay on gluten if you choose to go that way. best of luck! Matt

I took Zoloft once. Loved it until it triggered microscopic colitis (colonoscopy diagnosed it). Lexapro did the same. However, I have a family member who is fiagnosed celiac and tolerates Celexa well.

Thanks for the update and welcome to the club you never wanted to join! ?

Jmg, I am glad you were able to come to the realisation that the culprit was in fact gluten. For me its not so simple. IBS runs in the family, as do several food intolerances. Its just in the last while that I can finally reach the conclusion that for me its gluten. The fact that it is a delayed effect-several hours after, made it harder. Friday I had some KFC, felt great. Saturday evening felt sleepy, Sunday felt awful and my belly was huge. I think I have gone from mildly sensitive to full blown celiac over the course of five years-if that possible. Thanks for all your help.

I thought I'd take a moment to provide an update, given how much lurking I've done on these forums the last year. It took a long time, but I've since had another gastroenterologist visit, many months of eating tons of bread, and an endoscopy where they took several biopsies. I have to say, the endoscopy was a super quick and efficient experience. During the procedure they let me know that it looked somewhat suspicious, causing them to take many biopsies, and then did comprehensive blood work. About a month later, I received a call telling me that the TTG came back positive a second time, and that the biopsies were a mix of negative (normal) results and some that were positive (showing blunting of the villi). As a result, I've been given a celiac diagnosis. It's been about a month now that I've been eating gluten free. Not sure if I'm really feeling all that different yet. It's a bit twisted to say, but in some way I was hoping for this diagnosis ? thinking how nice it would be to have an explanation, a plan of action, and feeling better. It's certainly no small change to be totally gluten free, but I'm hopeful.