Deadly new wheat disease threatens Europe’s crops

Researchers caution that stem rust may have returned to world’s largest wheat-producing region.

The stem rust fungus damages wheat, leaving a characteristic brown stain.

An infection that struck wheat crops in Sicily last year is a new and unusually devastating strain of fungus, researchers say — and its spores may spread to infect this year’s harvests in Europe, the world’s largest wheat-producing region.

“We have to be careful of shouting wolf too loudly. But this could be the largest outbreak that we have had in Europe for many, many years,” says Chris Gilligan, an epidemiologist at the University of Cambridge, UK, who leads a team that has modelled the probable spread of the fungus’s spores.

In alerts released on 2 February, researchers revealed the existence of TTTTF, a kind of stem rust — named for the characteristic brownish stain it lays down as it destroys wheat leaves and stems. The alarm was raised by researchers at the Global Rust Reference Center (GRRC), which is part of Aarhus University in Denmark, and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), headquartered in Texcoco, Mexico.

Last year, the stem rust destroyed tens of thousands of hectares of crops in Sicily. What’s particularly troubling, the researchers say, is that GRRC tests suggest the pathogen can infect dozens of laboratory-grown strains of wheat, including hardy varieties that are usually highly resistant to disease. The team is now studying whether commercial crops are just as susceptible.

Adding further concern, the centres say that two new strains of another wheat disease, yellow rust, have been spotted over large areas for the first time — one in Europe and North Africa, and the other in East Africa and Central Asia. The potential effects of the yellow-rust fungi aren’t yet clear, but the pathogens seem to be closely related to virulent strains that have previously caused epidemics in North America and Afghanistan.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Rome issued similar alerts about the three diseases on 3 February.

Severe wheat damage in Europe could affect food prices, inflation and the region’s economic stability, says James Brown, a plant pathologist at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, UK.

But researchers hope that by putting out alerts before European wheat crops have started to grow this year, they will give farmers enough warning to monitor fields and apply fungicides, halting the disease’s spread. Plant breeders can also start to ramp up efforts to produce resistant varieties. “Timely action is crucial,” says Fazil Dusunceli, a plant pathologist at the FAO.

Return of stem rust

In the mid-twentieth century, devastation caused by stem rust spurred efforts to breed wheat strains that could resist the fungi. That research — led by agronomist Norman Borlaug — famously led to the Green Revolution in agriculture, increasing crop yields around the world.

But stem rust returned in the late 1990s and 2000s, with a variety called Ug99 that spread through Africa and parts of the Middle East. It ruined harvests and caused international concern because, says Dusunceli, more than 90% of wheat crops were susceptible to it. So far, however, it hasn’t hit large wheat-producing regions such as Europe, China and North America. Researchers are developing resistant crops.

Stem rust epidemics haven’t been seen in Europe since the 1950s, says Mogens Hovmøller, who leads the GRRC’s testing team. “It’s not a challenge plant breeders have faced for many years,” agrees Brown.

But the outbreak that hit Sicily in 2016 suggests that the disease has now returned. Unusually, even the hardy durum wheat, used to make pasta, is susceptible to it, says Hovmøller. But it’s too early to say whether the new infection could be as devastating as Ug99.

Models based on wind and weather patterns, conducted by Gilligan’s team at Cambridge University together with CIMMYT and the UK’s Met Office in Exeter, suggest that stem-rust spores released during the Sicilian outbreak may well have been deposited throughout the Mediterranean region. That doesn’t mean the infection will spread — the spores may not have survived the winter, for example — but it is worrying enough for researchers to raise the alarm.

The yellow-rust strains are also a concern, says Hovmøller. For Europe, perhaps the most alarming is one provisionally called Pst(new), which was spotted in Sicily, Morocco, Italy and northern Europe in 2016. The fungus is related to a virulent strain that hit North America in the 2000s, but it is not clear how aggressive it is.

Early-warning system

Researchers are accustomed to finding one or two new wheat-rust strains each year in Europe; these must be guarded against but are not usually dangerously virulent. But since 2010, the region has experienced a greater influx of wheat pathogens, says Hovmøller.

He doesn’t know why, but speculates that it could be down to warmer autumns and milder winters attributable to climate change, combined with changes in farming practices, such as sowing wheat earlier in the season. Increases in international travel — potentially spreading spores on clothing — could also be a factor, speculates Brown.

Hovmøller and others will in the next few weeks ask the European Research Council for funds to establish an early-warning system. That will help partners including breeders, scientists and agrochemical companies in Europe to share diagnostic facilities and information about potential outbreaks.

Dusunceli thinks that such a network might have helped to mitigate the Sicily outbreak, which in turn would have meant that fewer spores could spread to other parts of the continent. “I wouldn’t question the necessity for an early-warning system,” he says.

A Tale of Two Brains: How Your Second Brain Is Key To Understanding Many Chronic Illnesses.

Not many people realize they have two brains. Yes, you read that right. And your second brain may have more to do with your health that you ever imagined.

We tend to think of our brain as the command center from which all physiological functions stem. But there is another intelligence in your body that you may not realize… and its importance to your health may be the key you’re looking for when searching for the cause of chronic illness and even mental health issues.

If you see a thirty something man with gray hair, or a forty year old woman with balding head, or a fifty year old stroke victim in a coffin, or a sixty-five year old grandpa with shaky hands, or a seventy year old grandma with dementia — look no further than inside their compromised guts. (Gut Sense: How to Restore Intestinal Flora and What Happens If You Don’t)

The “second brain” or belly brain is much different from the brain in our heads. While our cranial brain performs complex cognitive functions, allowing us to process information, apply knowledge, and change preferences, our belly brain is intuitive and receives signals and messages regarding our bodies and the environment that it sends back to our cranial brain and vice versa.

Understanding the belly brain and its functions is often the answer to helping people who are plagued with many problems that are often dismissed by traditional medical practitioners. Your belly brain, known to scientists as the enteric nervous system, is connected to your cranial brain by the vagus nerve. The same brain-regulating chemicals found in your cranial brain have also been found in your belly brain — including hormones and neurotransmitters. It’s estimated that one hundred million neurotransmitters line the length of the gut, approximately the same number found in the cranial brain. (Dr. Gershon, Scientific American: Think Twice)

The belly brain also produces dopamine and 95% of the chemical serotonin in our bodies. Without adequate levels of these two “feel-good” chemicals, we may experience depression, insomnia and other emotional distress. Be glad for these symptoms as they are warning signals—alerts–that tell you plainly to “Listen to me! Pay attention to my gut!”

Our belly brain influences not just mood, but is key to understanding many of our disease processes as well. It’s easy to see why, when you realize that approximately 70% of our immune system is located in our digestive tract. Taking care of both your brains will serve you well in many areas of health.

As Americans, we spend more than any other nation in the world on healthcare. You would think that for this price tag we would be the healthiest people on the planet. Yet we are among the sickest population. Prescription drug use for gastrointestinal and mental conditions is at an all-time high, yet too many people are still suffering and walking around in a drug-induced haze.

Maybe it’s time to look to the cause of the problem rather than simply treating the symptoms. Popping a pill to ease your discomfort may be the easy way out, but it’s wreaking havoc with your health. If you don’t address the cause of your discomfort, the problem will only get worse until it definitely has your attention. By taking care of our two brains, we can greatly influence the quality of our health.

How do you take care of your second brain?

First, let’s look at what we eat. The gut is like any environment–it is only as healthy as what you put into it. There are ten times more microbes in your intestinal biome than you have cells in your body. In fact, these microbes are made up of more than 500 different species and weigh in at somewhere between 2 and 5 pounds! If we produce a good environment for healthy, helpful microbes, we have a healthy body. Sounds easy enough, right?

So what produces a healthy gut?

Unfortunately, we have seen an increasing number of patients in our practice with serious health problems, and many of these disorders stem from intestinal issues. While a different protocol may be prescribed for each patient, there are some basic things you can do to improve the health of your gut.

1. Stay away from chicken and meat that have antibiotics when possible. These antibiotics alter the flora in your intestines. Antibiotics are meant to kill the harmful bacteria; unfortunately, they kill the good bacteria, too, leaving you even more defenseless.
2. Stay away from high carbohydrate intake, i.e., sugar, pasta, rice and grains. They feed the bad flora. Never before in the history of mankind have humans eaten such large amounts of sugar and refined carbohydrates, and our bodies are not designed to optimize this fuel on a full-time basis.

3. Stay away from gut irritants. Avoid chemical toxins such as MSG, food preservatives and flavor enhancers. Eat organic whenever possible and avoid foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Gluten sensitivity is an increasing problem in our culture where 99% of the wheat we now consume is a hybrid developed back in 1970 by Norman Borlaug. This dwarf wheat also contained 14 new strains of gluten. It is estimated about 40% of our population could be gluten sensitive or intolerant, and many think this is one of the reasons why.

Flickr - Brain - Lnk.Si

4. Increase your intake of fermented foods such as sauerkraut, fermented relish, or Kombucha, a fermented tea. Just a tablespoon or two of one of these delicious foods at the start of your meal can populate your inner ecosystem with the good bacteria our bodies need.

5. For more information about healing diet and gut protocols go to

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