Fungal Infections Could Destroy Our Food Supply, Scientists Warn : ScienceAlert

Fungi pose a serious threat to crops around the world and have an increasingly ‘devastating’ impact on our food supply, scientists warn in a new commentary.

We tend to worry about pathogens, especially viruses and bacteria, that make humans sick directly. But while corn smut and stem rust may not scare us as much as Ebola or stem rust, Escherichia colimaybe it should.

Such fungi are already wreaking havoc, with global growers losing up to 23% of their crops to fungal infections each year. They added that fungi demand another 10 to 20 percent after harvest.

With its impact on five of the world’s top calorie crops: rice, wheat, corn, soybeans and potatoes, the fungus is currently destroying enough food to supply 600-400 million people with 2,000 calories per day for one year. ing.

And, according to University of Exeter plant pathologist Sarah Garr, things are getting worse as the “perfect storm” factor has left some of the farmland dangerously vulnerable to fungi. It says.

Even if they don’t turn us into zombies like the fictional fungi (or slime molds) do to humans in the HBO drama Last of Us, these fungi are a nightmare, Garr warns. Also, they are real.

“While the story is science fiction, it is believed that in a warming world, resistance to fungal infections will increase, and the rapid global spread of fungal infections could lead to a global health catastrophe. We warn you,” she said. “The immediate threat here is not zombies, but global hunger.”

Farmers have been fighting fungi for thousands of years, but the situation in this case is not exactly the same, says Garr and co-author Eva Steukenbrock, an environmental genomicist at Christian Albrecht University in Kiel. writes Mr.

Climate change is one of the key differences, as the extra warmth has helped some fungi, including species that threaten major food crops, expand their ranges (among other worrisome adaptations). is.

The researchers write that humans have also contributed to this crisis in other ways, such as establishing vast monocultures of genetically similar crops that are particularly susceptible to fungal development.

And while fungicides have helped producers avoid such outbreaks in recent generations, fungi are finding ways to circumvent the most robust defenses, Garr and Stakenbrock explain.

Many fungicides work by targeting just one cellular process, giving fungi room to evolve resistance. The fungus seems to be seizing this opportunity.

(Janine Haueisen/University of Exeter)

Because fungicides are effective against newly acquired resistant fungi, disgruntled farmers sometimes respond by using higher concentrations of the same fungicides, which can exacerbate the situation. .

With temperatures soaring, pesticides becoming ineffective, and large-scale monocultures virtually defenseless against fungi, our crops are like sitting ducks.

And with over 8 billion people currently living on Earth, many of whom are already food insecure due to other impacts of climate change, now is the perfect time for fungi to eradicate their food sources. It’s not the time, says Stakenbrock.

“With the world population projected to skyrocket, humanity faces unprecedented challenges to food production,” she says. “We are already witnessing massive crop losses due to fungal infections, which could kill millions of people each year.”

These losses have already become a disaster that needs global attention, but the new commentary aims to highlight just how bad the situation is and could be even worse. there is

“This alarming trend could be exacerbated as global warming drives fungal infections to become more prevalent in European crops and resistance to antifungal drugs continues to develop,” Stakenbrock said. “This will be devastating for developing countries and will have major implications for the West.”

But since humans contributed to this mess, Garr and Stakenbrock argue, we have the power to fix at least some of it.

Aside from the obvious but elusive goal of curbing the emissions behind climate change, which is already very important for other reasons, in the short term there are several ways to better protect crops from fungi. There may be

Researchers at the University of Exeter have developed a new technique that could enable a new class of fungicides that target multiple cellular mechanisms, making the evolution of resistance in fungi more difficult, Garr and Stakenbrock say. points out.

Studies show that this type of antifungal drug may be effective against several major pathogens, including the fungi that cause corn smut, rice blast and banana leaf wilt. they added.

Even in the absence of better fungicides, Garr and Stukenbrock suggest that simply adopting better agricultural practices could reduce the risk of fungal outbreaks, by planting genetically diverse seed mixtures. He cites a successful Danish project against fungal infections as an example.

“Fungal infections are threatening some of our most important crops, from potatoes to grains to bananas,” Gar said. “We have already experienced huge losses and given the population growth, this threatens to become a global catastrophe.”

A commentary was posted on Nature.

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